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Pursuing a common heritage area

West Linn, Oregon City seek Lake Oswego partnership on preservation project


The board of the Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition does not have a single representative from Lake Oswego. But that situation should change soon. by: CLIFF NEWELL - The Iron Furnace at George Rogers Park is a key reason why Lake Oswego could well join the effort to form a new historical preservation area.

The coalition recently held a meeting to invite Lake Oswego to join West Linn and Oregon City as a partner in the effort to form the Willamette Falls Heritage Area, and organization officials could not have asked for a better turnout. Lake Oswego already has a strong historical preservation movement, and many of the people who have made it happen were there, including Susanna Kuo, Marylou Colver, former Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad, Jeanie McGuire and Jack Walsdorf.

There was another Lake Oswego guest on hand who could make a big difference in the effort. Chuck O’Leary, executive director of the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce, was there, and he expressed strong support for the project.

“We wanted to reach out to Lake Oswego, and we got an enthusiastic response from the heritage groups,” said Chris Finks, executive director of the association. “The timing is quite good for Lake Oswego people to jump in.”

Organized in 2006, the coalition is seeking government designation of the Willamette Falls area as a region distinguished for cultural, historical, natural and recreational reasons, and thus eligible for government funding for development.

As the meeting indicated, Lake Oswego would be a perfect partner for the project since it is located right next to West Linn and Oregon City, and it already has its own historical preservation effort. Lake Oswego’s joining of the Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition could provide the final push that makes a heritage area a reality, as early as this year.

“Tonight we want the opportunity to talk with the folks of Lake Oswego about joining with us in our vision,” said Jody Carson, West Linn city councilor, who started the meeting.

This vision got an articulate and enthusiastic presentation from Alice Norris, former mayor of Oregon City.

“We would like to be number one in having a heritage area in Oregon,” Norris said. “Our theme could be how this area secured the boundaries of a new nation. You have an asset. You have a story that belongs to this area.”

Norris noted that West Linn and Oregon City have a rich heritage of the Ice Age, Native American tribes, salmon fishing and even a time when Willamette Falls was the place for industry in the West. Lake Oswego would bring its rich tradition of the Iron Trail, symbolized by the monumental Iron Furnace in George Rogers Park.

“Lake Oswego would be a great addition to the overall picture,” said David Lewis of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and chairman of the Oregon Heritage Commission. “There’s a lot of stuff here.”

For West Linn and Oregon City, Lake Oswego cannot join fast enough. Norris said the coalition will soon have its feasibility study completed. The next step will be the introduction of a bill before Congress for designation of the area by U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley. The earlier the bill is passed the better.

“It is important that we get the designation this year,” Norris said. “That way we can get $160,000.”

Why hurry?

“New heritage areas used to get $1 million,” Norris said.

No hard sell was needed to churn up the enthusiasm of the audience. They were already getting ideas for future activities that would both help preserve history and boost the local economy.

“The Willamette River is the strongest link between Lake Oswego and the Willamette Falls area,” said Kuo, who played a key leadership role in preserving the Iron Furnace. “It was a tourism magnet as early as 1870 when they had boat tours. This is a really old idea. It would be wonderful to have something like that again.”

Finks said that historic preservation will be a crucial aspect of a new heritage area. But speakers pointed out it will also offer tourism and economic development, conservation, education and interpretation.

For more about the coalition, visit wfheritage.org.

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