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Lock Fest: a day of music and more

The event on Saturday will include a 125th birthday celebration for the West Linn Paper Company


Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - The annual Willamette Falls Lock Fest this Saturday will celebrate both the locks - which were built in 1873 to allow boats to bypass the falls - and the West Linn Paper Company's 125th birthday. There are moments, even more than 10 years after the first Willamette Falls Lock Fest, when City Council President Jody Carson finds local residents who haven’t a clue about the event.

“Locks?” they say. “You’re kidding.”

They know next to nothing about the 141-year old Willamette Falls Locks, and that’s precisely why Carson helps organize the Lock Fest, year after year. The event is designed to raise awareness of the structure’s historic significance, while also emphasizing the fact that — despite being in “non-operational” status since 2011 — the locks still work.

The first thing some residents need to understand is what, exactly, a lock is. On a river, a lock allows boat traffic to navigate a stretch that includes a significant drop or rise, such as at the base of Willamette Falls, where a series of chambers allows water to rise and fall — taking boats with it.

“I think what’s special to me is these locks have been, up until recently, continuously in operation since 1873,” Carson said. “And they have continued to be a vital link between the upper and lower Willamette ... even if (the locks) are not operating, people can see the incredible effort it took to build the locks.”

And this year’s Lock Fest, on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., will be bigger than ever. The event includes a full day of music performances as well as kayak tours of the falls, a “Locks Museum” and a special 125th birthday celebration for the West Linn Paper Company.

“The biggest new thing we have is a lot more music,” Carson said. “We have had music before, but now we have really good groups, and we’re going to basically have music all day long from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the exception of the birthday celebration at noon.”

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - City Council President Jody Carson considers the locks to be an important part of West Linn's history, and she hopes they are re-opened at some point in the near future.

That celebration will include cake for any and all who want a piece, as the city celebrates a milestone birthday for the West Linn Paper Company. Mayor John Kovash and State Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn) are scheduled to speak, and a letter will be read from U.S. Congressman Kurt Schrader. Carson will also present a plaque from the Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition.

The West Linn Paper Company is known as the largest private employer in West Linn, accommodating as many as 250 employees when fully staffed. On a daily basis, the paper mill produces more than 750 tons of “prime coated” paper.

Lock Fest attendees will have a chance to learn about that process during guided tours of the paper mill, which will be available throughout the day.

“It’s just paper mill tours, not the power plant,” Carson said. “So the tours will be more frequent.”

For those who wish to learn more about the river itself, tours will be available via jet boat and kayak. The narrated jet boat tours are hosted by the Willamette Heritage Area Coalition and move from the Jon Storm Boat Dock in Oregon City to the Willamette Falls and locks. Shuttles to the boat dock will be available at Lock Fest.

The kayak tours, meanwhile, are offered by City Councilor Mike Jones, who will guide participants from Westbridge Park to the Willamette Falls.

“We’ve never done those before,” Carson said.

Back on dry land, attendees will have plenty of chances to learn about the Locks’ history at educational booths and the Locks Museum, which is located in the original Locks Watch Tower.

Everything — from the water tours to the music and even the food — is meant to call attention to an oft-underappreciated facet of West Linn’s history. The locks may be closed for now — and Carson hopes that changes soon — but their significance remains intact.

“We have more educational booths than in the past,” Carson said. “Each year, we’ve added to Lock Fest to find ways to get more people to come. ... When the locks were closed and we couldn’t have something neat come through, we had to come up with other ways to get people down there to see the locks.

“We’re trying to help people understand the locks are here, just to make sure people understand the importance of the locks in our history.”

To learn more, visit wfheritage.org/lock-fest-2014.

Contact Patrick Malee at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or pmalee@westlinntidings.com.

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