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Willamette Falls Legacy Project partners decide riverwalk won't include a whitewater park

Clackamas County, Metro and state representatives have officially removed the proposed whitewater park after Oregon City reversed its recommendation for planning a walkway next to the second-largest waterfall by volume in North America.

On Sept. 19, the Willamette Falls Legacy Project partners group decided unanimously to move forward on the riverwalk project without further consideration of a proposal to integrate a whitewater park.

The whitewater park proposal by nonprofit We Love Clean Rivers envisioned the construction of a whitewater channel through the project site.

In responding to the decision of the partners group, members of the board of directors for We Love Clean Rivers restated their commitment to ensuring that the project to build a world-class public open space and walkway to Willamette Falls becomes a reality without delay. The nonprofit understood concerns that Oregon State lottery funds and Metro’s natural area’s bond investments have specific timelines and requirements that could have been imperiled by leaving the whitewater-park concept in the official planning process.

“It is important to make clear that as riverwalk design proceeds, the Willamette Falls Legacy Project will strive to incorporate the community’s desire for river access, such as portage trails and water-trail connections, to create opportunities for kayaking and other water activities," said Kathleen Brennan-Hunter, Metro director of parks and nature.

The Willamette Falls riverwalk project has received community input that will be reflected in riverwalk design alternatives planned to be released for public feedback in November.

This summer, Metro was asked to by Clackamas County Tourism to make the whitewater park part of the plans, but the process started earlier than that. In 2014, the Oregon City Planning Commission first mentioned interest in opening a tailrace on the east side of Willamette Falls so small boats could navigate a rapids. At that time, We Love Clean Rivers was completing a yearlong feasibility study for a whitewater park on the lower Clackamas River. After consulting with fishery and hydrological experts, the nonprofit decided that Willamette Falls would be the best place in the county to further the study of a whitewater channel as a tourism asset.

"It could have been developed in tandem with the Riverwalk all along if Metro was willing to give it any credibility," said Kate Govaars, a We Love Clean Rivers board member who serves as project manager for the Whitewater Park proposal. "But somewhere along the lines Metro decided to come down heavy-handedly against our project."

The selected option still leaves open up the possibility for creating a water trail through the project.

"The project partners staff did put forward a lot of good questions that do need answering like making sure that anything we do is fish friendly and in tandem with the tribes, and those types of questions are where we're going to be putting our work in the future," Govaars said.