City asked to endorse national heritage area
District would extend from Oregon City, West Linn to Lake Oswego
Relics of Lake Oswegos history as the Pittsburgh of the West are poised for addition to a proposed national area spanning 26 square miles around Willamette Falls.
The Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition is pushing for Lake Oswego to sign on as a partner in its effort to secure national recognition that the falls, between Oregon City and West Linn, represent a place of national historical significance.
Proponents believe the designation would boost economic revitalization and better protect historical, cultural and natural resources. The group has been rallying support to convince Congress to create the area since 2006. It would be the first national heritage area in the Pacific Northwest.
Alice Norris, coalition president, last week urged local elected leaders to pledge their support. While the heritage area is largely focused around Willamette Falls, Lake Oswegos history is connected, she said.
We couldnt really tell the story of industry without telling the story of the Pittsburgh of the West, Lake Oswego, and your iron smelting history, she said.
Norris said a resolution of support from Lake Oswego is really the last formal thing we need to add Lake Oswego into the boundaries of the national heritage area, which at 26 square miles would be smaller than most heritage areas in the United States. She said the designation would not impose new regulations on the area, nor would it affect zoning or land use.
Northwests birthplace of industry
In her presentation to the city council, Norris highlighted the natural history of the falls, including connections to the Missoula Ice Age floods that shaped much of the Northwests landscape, and the sites importance as a gathering place for native tribes, who still hold the worlds biggest Pacific lamprey harvest there. The Oregon Trail ended at Oregon City, which was home to the territorial government.
Paper mills were located in the cities on either side of Willamette Falls, and the woolen mill there once employed thousands of people. But perhaps the most important characteristic, Norris said, is the sites significance to transmission of power. The first long-distance transmission of electricity took place there from Willamette Falls to Portland, 14 miles away. It was the first of its kind in the world, beating Niagara Falls for that honor, she said.
Because of Willamette Falls, this was the birthplace of industry in the American Pacific Northwest, Norris said. Its a very important place.
The Oswego Iron Heritage Trail, a self-guided tour taking people to seven stops in Lake Oswego, is part of the larger narrative, she said. According to the city, the trail offers a different way of looking at the landscape, through the eyes of those who mined its ore, cut its timber and harnessed its waterpower for the purpose of smelting iron.
The route includes the citys historic iron furnace, in George Rogers Park on the Willamette River, which was the first of its kind on the West Coast when it was built in 1866 and today is the only surviving historical furnace west of the Rockies. It also stops at the site of an 1888 furnace in Roehr Park, the site of a pipe foundry in Foothills Park and the Prosser iron mines in Iron Mountain Park. It takes visitors to an old charcoal pit in Tryon Creek State Natural Area, along with an old workers cottage and the Oswego Pioneer Cemetery, where close to 100 iron industry workers were buried.
Join us, because our stories are related, Norris told the city council last week. Were all river people. The impacts of the Willamette Falls area and the stories are terribly interconnected.
Other partners who have endorsed the initiative include the cities of Oregon City and West Linn, Clackamas County, Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, national and state preservation and parks and recreation agencies, along with nonprofits such as county arts, tourism and business-related groups and private industry members such as Portland General Electric and West Linn Paper Co.
Tourism benefits touted
Marylou Colver, president of the nonprofit Lake Oswego Preservation Society, said she and other prominent local preservation advocates have spent years trying to get Lake Oswego included in Oregon City and West Linns national effort.
There are a number of studies about the economic benefits of the heritage area designations, Colver explained. I think by the region joining together with all of our resources and assets it will draw visitors, and once theyre here theyll want to explore those other areas, whether they come for Native American (history), the paper mill, transfer of electricity or our iron industry. ... Once theyre here, those tourism dollars ripple through the local economy.
While Lake Oswego could join the coalition without footing the bill for any of the planning or administration work, Colver said, the community has access to a pot of money intended for these types of projects.
Clackamas County gives the city about $20,000 each year in money from hotel and motel taxes; earmarked for tourism-related uses, the funds are administered by the chamber of commerce as community partnership grants, she said.
Im thinking this money is administered by the chamber of commerce. In my mind that would be the best and highest use of that money and it would bring some money to the table from Lake Oswego without impacting Lake Oswegos budget.
Early concerns subside
But not everyone is as happy with the initiative.
Although he said this week he has reconsidered his earlier concerns, resident Don Burdick recently urged Lake Oswego council members to remain cautious of potential impacts of the designation on Oswego Lake, which is managed by the Lake Oswego Corporation, an organization of lakefront homeowners.
Burdick told the council the corporation would be concerned about tourists and local visitors attempting to access lake facilities such as a dam, flume line and powerhouse, although he noted he was testifying as an individual and not a formal representative of the Lake Corp.
We do not want to have tourism coming to those historical sites, Burdick said. Its one thing to consider them within our community as being historical; its quite another to include them in what the Willamette Falls organization is trying for.
He also worried a national designation could also lead to the imposition of more regulations.
Ive lived on the lake for many years. We are often told, No were not going to regulate you, no were not going to oversee you. ... When push comes to shove and something happens to our infrastructure, we find out that wasnt entirely correct, he said. I submit that when the president of the Willamette Falls area says their slogan is to protect, enhance and share, it doesnt work for the Lake Corporation.
But after meeting with coalition members, Burdick said Monday that his concerns had largely subsided. He said PGE and the paper mill likely wouldnt have endorsed the heritage area if it posed serious implications for industrial activities.
Of course the preservation of the smelter, the foundry, is a huge thing we want to preserve, Burdick said. But there are other structures that continue to function today, and sometimes well-intentioned preservation stops people from improving their properties and maintaining their properties.
But upon further review the type of heritage area that they want to establish is perhaps even a good idea for Lake Oswego. Cultural tourism is one of the fastest growing travel activities in America. Certainly Lake Oswego has a lot to contribute.
The city council is scheduled to consider the proposal next Tuesday. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at city hall, 380 A Ave.
The Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition is seeking public input as it pursues a national designation.
Draft copies of a feasibility study, a national requirement for the status, are now available online and at several locations in Lake Oswego, Oregon City, Tualatin and West Linn.
Once this round of public input is incorporated into the document, the coalition will be ready to present its study to Congress, which could then designate the Willamette Falls area as a national heritage area, meaning its a place where natural, cultural and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape.
U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon's Fifth Congressional District, will present the legislation to the House, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, will introduce the bill to the Senate.
To see the study, visit wfheritage.org, or go to the Lake Oswego Public Library, 706 Fourth St. in Lake Oswego; the Oregon City library, at 606 John Adams St. in Oregon City; the Tualatin library, at 18878 SW Martinazzi Ave. in Tualatin; or the West Linn Public Library, at 1595 Burns St. in West Linn.
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