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Heritage tour brings fall colors and history to life

Upper Willamette boat trip will span 52 miles


by: SUBMITTED - The 60-foot 'Osprey' jet boat from Willamette Jetboat will take people on a 52-mile tour of the Willamette River. History will come alive once again during the upper Willamette Fall Foliage Heritage Cruise. The West Linn company, Willamette Jetboats, will launch their 60-foot, 10,000-pound vessel “Osprey” on Sept. 22 for a fully narrated discovery boat tour.

The 52-mile journey will start at the historic Bernet Landing. Naturalists, ice age flood experts, valley agri-business, farming leaders and various interdisciplinary experts will discuss territorial and settlement history, horticulture products, geology, steamboat landings and centers of commerce and more while traveling the river.

The river cruises have had an illustrious — and sometimes tumultuous — 32-year history in the region thanks to Jerry Herrmann.

“We need to get people out in the environment looking at aspects of business and commerce to meet the needs of the people,” said Herrmann, tour organizer and president of the Earth Crusaders River Resource Museum.

“I believe in getting people out firsthand learning about the natural resources in the area and showing them how they are being used properly or affected ... we really should be looking at the issues collectively to solve environmental problems.”

On the tour, ice age flood experts will explain how the region’s unique geography was carved out thousands of years ago by glacial floods and point out burial sites for mastodons and saber-tooth tigers.

The expedition will feature a tour and presentations at Champoeg State Heritage Area, on the banks of the Willamette seven miles east of Newberg. The tours have also begun to mix history and earth sciences with culture. In years past, tours have featured local poetry readings, barbershop quartets like The Tonesetters and local chefs. Each presentation, whether through verse, song or food, highlights aspects of the Willamette River.

Herrmann said the tour this time of year is especially beautiful because the vegetation is just now touching the water and sprinkling the region with fall colors.

“People like to learn about the history of river cities like West Linn, Sellwood and Milwaukie,” Herrmann said. “But people got disconnected from the foundations of their communities and we are bringing them back to context. We want people to hear the real history of the area.”

The luxury cruise is more than just recreational. Willamette River recreation advocates say they’re not going to let the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to shutter Willamette Falls Locks stand in their way.

During a meeting in June, leaders said they were fed up with what they see as the Corps’ neglect of the historic, manmade waterway adjacent to the falls between Oregon City and West Linn.

Citing public safety concerns in November, the Corps moved the 138-year-old locks into a “non-operational” status, cutting the navigational potential of the Willamette River in half.

Herrmann said the locks may never reopen unless upriver tours — like the Fall Foliage Heritage Cruise — and other commercial uses are demonstrated. The Willamette Falls Locks are closed, so this is the first long distance upper river trip of the decade.

“I feel like the Corps has lost their way,” Herrmann said. “Though the locks are closed, we’re not giving up on the upper river.”

The Fall Foliage Heritage Cruise is Sept. 22 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Cost is $89, $40 youth 12 and younger. Lunch and refreshments provided. For more information, call Jerry Herrmann at 503-260-3432. For more information about Willamette Jetboats, visit willamettejet.com.

Raymond Rendleman of the Clackamas Review contributed to this story.