Willow Bill

“Willow” Bill Goulardt stands with the Flying Eagle.

St. Helens City Councilors are in the process of discussing future plans for The Flying Eagle, a 24-foot long dugout canoe the city has owned since 2006. At their most recent work session, councilors discussed issues about the canoe surrounding general upkeep, reimbursement for maintenance, scheduling of events and the possibility of using the canoe as a better tourist draw.

The canoe, carved by hand from a 170-year-old Western Red Cedar by hundreds of children and adult volunteers, was donated in 2006 to St. Helens to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Ownership of the canoe has passed from the hands of the nonprofit, St. Helens Community Foundation to the city, which designated the canoe as a piece of artwork.

Not long after the canoe was created, its maiden journey began, as Councilor Keith Locke told The Chronicle in 2016. It was put into the Yellowstone, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers to replicate the Lewis and Clark journey, traveling 1,600 miles into St. Louis, according to Locke.

Since then, “Willow” Bill Goulardt has served as an ambassador to St. Helens regarding use of the canoe, leading multiple expeditions and events. The most recent events were “Eagle Fest,” which took place from June 6 to 14 this year, and involved maintaining the canoe, and the annual paddle down the Columbia River.

At their work session, councilors spoke positively about Goulardt and his work, but also discussed ideas for improving maintenance, scheduling and future activities.

Councilor Locke said general upkeep of the canoe is not strenuous, basically requiring patching every year.

“It was patched this year. Somebody needs to be in charge of doing that, and a budget to do it,” Locke said.

Councilor Ginny Carlson said any reimbursement regarding maintenance of the canoe should come with a detailed account.

“You don’t just get a blank check,” Carlson said. “I want to make sure that what we’re doing is we know what we’re paying for any time we spend money.”

City Administrator John Walsh said that was the purpose of the foundation, which helped maintain the canoe without dealing with city bureaucracy. Walsh said the fact that the city is now handling questions regarding upkeep of the canoe is due to the foundation no longer existing.

Another issue the councilors discussed was more specific plans regarding activities and use of the canoe, both for scheduling purposes and for better publicity.

For some of the events Willow Bill has hosted in the past, Carlson said a lot of the public was not informed about what was happening.

Carlson said it’s important for those schedules to be made available, “To be fully transparent, fully aware, so people know what’s going on.”

Councilors also discussed having more annual events in conjunction with better, more transparent scheduling with the goal of having a bigger tourist draw for the canoe.

Locke mentioned specifically that having a yearly event with canoe races among neighboring cities in Columbia County could be a potential tourist draw.

Carlson also mentioned that in her opinion, the community is interested in the connection between events and the city itself.

“The community wants to know the connection. They want to know what the anchor is,” Carlson said. “This canoe can be an anchor for something. It can be a catalyst for something.”

Mayor Rick Scholl ended the discussion by saying the city would inform Tina Curry, city events coordinator, about collaborating with Willow Bill for better scheduling and publicity.

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