Paddlers who want to leave their boat on the riverbank in Independence and explore the historic town won’t have to worry about their watercraft not being there when they return, thanks to the Oregon State University College of Engineering’s Prototype Development Lab.
Jonathan Cordisco, an undergraduate in the lab, has developed a locker system for kayakers, canoeists and stand-up paddleboarders to secure their craft and gear if they want to go into town for a walk, a meal or to stay the night.
“This project highlights how OSU and its students are able to work with organizations in highly collaborative ways, in this case to achieve something that improves recreational activities and economic impact,” said mechanical engineering researcher John Parmigiani, who directs the prototype lab.
The Beaver Boat Locker, which has one fixed end and one moveable end, with the boats placed in between, is being installed Thursday, July 21, at Riverview Park and will be dedicated at a ceremony Monday, July 25.
The new amenity for river recreationists, similar in philosophy to the hiker/biker pods that Oregon State Parks has installed at six campgrounds on the coast, came about after the Willamette Valley Visitors Association approached the prototype lab in fall 2021.
“Discussing the outcomes of the boat locker project with the WVVA, it was determined that the best outcome with regard to the intellectual property was to publish it and not protect it, even though it probably could have been patented,” Parmigiani said. “Unlike some of our work where we don’t divulge technical details about the innovation, this is one where it’s in everyone’s interest to do so.”
In partnership with the Oregon State Marine Board, Travel Oregon, Willamette Riverkeeper and multiple parks and recreation agencies, the visitors association was looking to help towns along the mainstem Willamette, one of the nation’s first designated National Water Trails, benefit from river recreationists.
“We were seeing lots of people on the river in 2020 and into the second year of the pandemic, and we were thinking, how do we find a way to drive economic impact into communities through paddlers,” said Katie McFall, communications and program manager for the WVVA. “That’s where the idea for the locker system came from. The intention is that other communities on the river will add locker systems too, and that this is something that will become more normalized.”
Cordisco, a fourth-year student at Oregon State and a graduate of Portland’s Lincoln High School, was a natural to lead the boat locker project, Parmigiani said, noting Cordisco’s engineering and communications skills as well as his interest in recreation-related work.
“This was perfect for me,” said Cordisco, a member of OSU’s Sports Product Development Club. “I’m really interested in sports and the outdoors, and I enjoy working on products I see myself using. In high school I participated in a Portland State University innovation challenge where we worked in teams, and we designed a similar locker for bikes, so going into this project I had some experience with the complexities of the challenge.”
After a lot of rough sketching, refinement and computer-aided-design modeling, Cordisco and Parmigiani settled on a “sandwich” design with one anchored end and one sliding, bracketed end, with the boat secured in the middle. Assembled on a concrete pad, the 15-foot-long, 2-foot-tall steel-built locker also features a storage compartment for lifejackets, paddles, coolers, etc. and is designed to be easily taken apart and warehoused for the winter.
“One requirement they had was they wanted to discourage long-term boat storage,” Parmigiani said. “They didn’t want locals to just leave their boats there all summer, so having part of the boat exposed to the elements was a desirable characteristic.”
The visitors association’s checklist for the $10,000 project also included durability, versatility, ease and safety of use, and environmental friendliness.
“My goal is always the simplest design possible to complete the function,” Cordisco said. “The fewer things to go wrong, the better. This is a piece of infrastructure that people will use – it needs to be robust and simple. There’s already been interest from other cities – that’s a good sign for the future of the project. We’ll see how the locker in Independence goes, and we can use those findings to make design changes if needed.”
The Prototype Development Lab traces its roots to 2004 when Parmigiani joined the OSU College of Engineering and began building contacts with regional companies so undergraduates could develop industrial prototypes as their senior capstone project.
As the lab took on increasingly large jobs, graduate students were added to the mix, and in 2019 Parimigiani changed the focus of the lab to include consumer products. Over the years the lab has worked with organizations including Oregon Tool (formerly Blount International), Boeing, Daimler Trucks North America, Precision Castparts, Lora DiCarlo and Benchmade Knife Company.