WATERLOO — Last week, Aiden Witney spent Labor Day floating along the South Santiam River with about 30 family members and friends in an armada of inner tubes, kayaks and inflatable rafts.

“It was relaxing but also thrilling,” said the 11-year-old Albany resident, who enjoyed going over “rapids” between Bates Bridge and Waterloo County Park, east of Lebanon. “They were probably my favorite part."

The two-hour journey was Aiden’s last splash of summer. He entered the sixth grade at Calapooia Middle School on Sept. 5.

“School starts tomorrow. This is the last big hurrah,” said Michael Rasmussen, of Albany, as he pulled a raft out of the water  on Sept. 4. Rasmussen, clad in a cowboy hat, sunglasses and swim trunks, had six children along on the trip. 

He was quick to point out that everyone in his group had a lifejacket — some of them on loan from the Albany Fire Department — and that no one had a drop of alcohol.

Waterloo County Park, with its beach, picnic shelters, campsites and more, was the destination on the Labor Day holiday weekend for numerous mid-Willamette Valley residents, as well as people from out of the area.

Marilyn Scharen of Eugene had a different take on the haze caused by numerous Oregon wildfires. “This is wonderful,” said Scharen, who added that air conditions were far worse in the south Willamette Valley.

Scharen and her husband David Scharen had just arrived in their fifth-wheel trailer on Monday, and planned to stay until Sept. 6.

“There’s nice hiking trails here and you can do some retail therapy close by if you’re so inclined,” David Scharen said.

Aiden said this was the second year floating the river with family and friends, and he hoped it would become a longstanding tradition.

“We’ll probably continue going and invite more people,” Rasmussen said.

Kyle Odegard can be reached at kyle.odegard@lee.net, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard.

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