The kick-off for the public visioning process in Oregon City at the First City Festival last weekend was a success as well as an excellent time. Folks kicked off the nine-month visioning and master planning process amongst the art, wine, food, and music for the former Blue Heron Paper Co. in downtown Oregon City at the First City Celebration Festival. Hundreds of people visited five interactive stations at the Festival to leave their vision for the future and to learn more about the Willamette Falls Legacy Project. Participants wrote their ideas on maps and then voted on others’ ideas for the future of the site. People also learned about the significance of the site by watching a PGE produced video about history of Willamette Falls. Visitors were also able to take a self-guided tour down to the site entrance gates at 4th and Main Street to explore with binoculars and to place their vision on a giant chalked map of the site drawn in the parking lot.
“We have received so many great comments and ideas from people today,” said Christina Robertson-Gardiner, project manager for the Willamette Falls Legacy Project. “People really care about the future of the site and want it to benefit their community as well as the region. It’s being seen as a terrific opportunity and we want as many people to participate that we can get.”
A “ribbon-cutting” ceremony in the evening was ushered in by Oregon City City Manager David Frasher; Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette; Clackamas County Board Chair John Ludlow; and Oregon City Mayor Doug Neeley. Rather than an actual ribbing-cutting, the elected officials kicked off the project by airing a “shift change” horn to everyone gathered at the festival.
For those who have not yet participated, there is still time to contribute your vision. We want to hear from you! Take the survey online by August 31 at rediscoverthefalls.com or contact Kelly Moosbrugger at the City of Oregon City, 503-496-1540, to schedule a community conversation. The Willamette Falls Legacy Project seeks to enhance economic development, allow people to experience the Falls, protect and create healthy habitats for plants and wildlife and provide opportunities for historical and cultural interpretation.
For the first time in 150 years, Oregonians have the opportunity to rediscover a cultural and scenic treasure: Willamette Falls. A public vision and master plan are taking shape, with the goal of transforming a 23-acre industrial site nestled along the Falls in historic Oregon City. This former paper mill could someday serve as an economic engine, a waterfront destination, a unique habitat, a window into Oregon’s past – and a bold step into our future.
Whatever develops on the landscape will be shaped by Willamette Falls, roaring in the Willamette River below. The largest waterfall in the Pacific Northwest, it was long an important cultural and gathering place for Native American tribes. The Oregon Trail ended here. And throughout the 1800s, the Falls made history by generating energy for Oregon’s early industries and cities and fueling the nation’s first long-distance electrical power transmission. That industrial legacy ended in 2011, when the Blue Heron Paper Co. closed its doors – the last in a succession of businesses that contributed to Oregon City’s strong working waterfront.
The former paper mill was recently purchased, but the site’s complexity and risks still create a hurdle for transformation. That’s why Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro, the State of Oregon and the new owners are working together to develop a vision and master plan. By rezoning the site and providing certainty for investors, the Willamette Falls Legacy Project will help a new era take shape along the Falls.
There’s a lot at stake. If the property is abandoned, the resulting blight would hurt property values in downtown Oregon City, one of the region’s most important economic hubs. Public safety risks and extra costs would burden taxpayers. Water quality and wildlife would deteriorate in one of the Willamette River’s most ecologically diverse stretches. And Oregon City wouldn’t recover the 175 family-wage jobs that vanished along with the paper mill.
With master planning underway, Oregonians can establish a statewide legacy and reconnect Oregonians and visitors with Willamette Falls. They can define how the area is transformed for economic redevelopment, public access, healthy habitats, and historical and cultural interpretation.