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Oregon to Congress: Willamette Falls region should be national heritage area

Oregon’s House of Representatives voted 50-9 on Wednesday to support federal designation of the state’s first national heritage area, owing to the nationally historic significance of Willamette Falls and its surrounding communities.

FILE PHOTO - Oregon City, below Willamette Falls.Following a unanimous vote by the Oregon Senate on April 2, the Oregon House action on the joint resolution means that Oregon is officially asking Congress to provide funds to restore and open Willamette Falls Locks, and to facilitate revitalization of properties near the falls.

Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition has worked for over nine years toward achieving heritage area designation, with effort by agencies and individuals from government, business, industry, tourism, marketing, arts, heritage, historic preservation and others. The coalition envisions enhancing the experience of visitors to the heritage area, making the stories of its history more accessible and driving economic development.

On April 23 the coalition received the Oregon Heritage Commission’s first-ever designation as a state heritage area. The group continues to pursue the national designation with an expanded footprint. The proposed national heritage area extends from historic parts of Lake Oswego, West Linn and Oregon City – following the river through French Prairie to Willamette Mission State Park.

“We’re excited that the Oregon Legislature has voted to encourage Congress to celebrate the national significance of Willamette Falls and the rich history of settlement along the Willamette River,” said Jim Mattis, secretary of the coalition board of directors. “The importance of opening the navigation locks cannot be overstated. Commerce, tourism and the connections between our communities all stand to gain.”

The Willamette Falls Locks were built in 1873, and transferred into public ownership in 1915. A major celebration involving that transfer was held in Oregon City on May 6, 1915. The Oregon City Enterprise anticipated the celebration with a headline: “Congressmen, Governors, and Senators will be in Oregon City May 6.”

The Corps of Engineers closed the locks in 2011. Groups including the One Willamette River Coalition, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation have been working toward re-opening the locks to recreational and commercial traffic.

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