Lock Fest, falls festival honor heritage and history of West Linn, Oregon City

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: SANDY CARTER - A Wilsonville Concrete Products tug moves an industrial barge through the locks the day before they closed in November 2011. Few folks in West Linn take the time to consider the city’s history, the role of the Willamette River and the importance of the now-closed Willamette Falls Navigation Canal and Locks. But the Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation is working to change that.

This weekend the foundation will once again hold Lock Fest, but this time it is a two-day festival in a new location in conjunction with the Willamette Falls Festival just on the other side of the arch bridge in Oregon City.

According to Sandy Carter, foundation vice president and longtime locks advocate, the foundation saw a synergy by linking Lock Fest with the Willamette Falls Festival.

“So many people in West Linn don’t know we’re a mill town,” Carter said. “It’s important to keep the locks in front of people.”

The One Willamette River Coalition has been working for seven years to keep the 1873 Willamette Falls Navigation Canal and Locks operating. In November 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decommissioned the locks indefinitely with a nonoperational status because of the risk of “catastrophic failure.” Prior to that, the locks were opened occasionally and were being maintained.

Last year, the West Linn locks were listed as one of nine on the Historic Preservation League of Oregon’s 2012 list of the state’s most endangered places. Each year the preservation league publishes a list of historic buildings, sites, districts, structures and landscapes that are at risk of losing their significance and integrity.

The Willamette Falls locks were the first significant navigational improvement on the Willamette River and in the greater Columbia River drainage basin. Today the locks are unique in Oregon and a rare example of an intact piece of America’s canal building era.

“They are kind of magnetic. Once you’ve been down there ... you can’t help but want to help save them. They’re just magical,” Carter said.

by: FILE PHOTO: WILLAMETTE FALLS HERITAGE FOUNDATION  - A boat carries U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley through the locks in 2002, in the first flotilla for the locks.

In previous Lock Fests, boats, canoes and kayaks of all shapes and sizes would fill the river and traverse the locks to explore both up and down the river. Now that the locks are closed, not only does it block recreational traffic but also commercial traffic.

“We’ve got to get the locks open again,” Carter said. “They have a wider history in the state of Oregon than most people appreciate. ... It’s not just for their history, but to the economic value to the state. We’re guardians to something more valuable than just to West Linn.”

For Carter, Lock Fest is a “West Linn roots festival,” an educational weekend to show off the falls, the locks and their importance.

This year, Lock Fest will be located at Mill Street and Highway 43, at the west end of the arch bridge near the police station. It runs Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There is parking at West Linn High School with shuttle service on the half-hour. The free shuttle will also connect to the festivities happening in Oregon City.

There will be free “Paper and Power” walking tours of area industrial sites on Saturday on the hour from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for age 16 and older courtesy of Portland General Electric Company and West Linn Paper Company.

Other exhibits include paper making, One Willamette River Coalition, National Trust for Historic Preservation, West Linn Centennial Museum, Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation Festival Souvenir Store, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife/state hatchery program aquarium, West Linn Paper Company, West Linn Chamber of Commerce, a geocaching booth, Lake Oswego Iron Furnace/Iron Trail and the Lake Oswego Preservation Society.

Carter encourages all West Linn residents to come to Lock Fest. “It’s almost a civic requirement to know where we come from,” she said. “They’ll learn at least five new things they never knew about their town.”

Across the river, the Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition will celebrate the Oregon City area’s rich history. The Willamette Falls Festival is preparing cultural and outdoor-recreational activities.

The festival will gear up Friday evening as the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde present the We Love Clean Rivers Benefit Dinner featuring Native Pacific Northwest foods prepared by chef Matt Bennett at the Museum of the Oregon Territory.

Saturday will kick off with a farmers market followed by musical performances, including Grammy-nominated Ellen Whyte.

Festival attendees also will see industrial heritage reenactments, as well as tribal demonstrations of Native American drumming and crafts. Carve out time at noon to join in the dedication of Mid Run, a We Love Clean Rivers RiPPLe Legacy Sculpture in Clackamette Park. The evening will end with a bang — a fireworks show over the Willamette River.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: SANDY CARTER - The shiny, refurbished Canby Ferry gets pulled by ropes back up through the West Linn canal in July in a rare instance of the locks being opened.

The Willamette Falls Festival’s partner events include BizFair and HarvestFest, a fundraiser for the Oregon City Chamber of Commerce from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Activities include pumpkin slingshots, dance performances, a bounce house, face painting, music by the Turkey Creek Desperadoes, a petting zoo, Harmony Road Music Center performances, a chili cook-off and pumpkin pie contest, pumpkin carving/decorating, a scarecrow contest and a scavenger hunt for prizes.

Also on Oct. 5, at 11:30 a.m. the museum presents “Moore & McLoughlin — Industrialists amd Founders of West Linn and Oregon City,” featuring former West Linn Mayor Larry McIntyre as Robert Moore and current Oregon City Mayor Doug Neeley as Dr. John McLoughlin. Moore and McLoughlin were well-acquainted with each other as local entrepreneurs and were buried within a week of each other in 1857.

Then, learn more about the Willamette Falls Navigational Canal and Locks in a free presentation by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers speaker Pat Duyck at the Museum of the Oregon Territory Saturday at 2 p.m. 

Eat or exercise (or both) Sunday morning at a pancake breakfast followed by a family-friendly bike rodeo. There will also be a Fun-athlon (run/paddle/bike) as well as a 5K fun run. Activities also will focus on the arch bridge. It will be closed from 8 a.m. to noon, allowing the public to walk, take photos and converse with plein air artists. A Heritage Parade will begin in downtown Oregon City at 11 a.m. and make its way to West Linn via the bridge. Festival-goers may take photos of the parade’s vintage cars when they pull to a stop in West Linn’s Historic Willamette District.

There also will be activities that stretch over both days: Willamette jetboat tours, carnival rides, a Willamette Falls Festival Geocache Challenge, self-guided heritage trail tours, plein air and RiPPLe art demonstrations and local food, wine and beer. 

Proceeds from the Willamette Falls Festival will benefit We Love Clean Rivers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to both broadening public engagement with river restoration activities and increasing the recreation community’s understanding of threats to watershed health.

For more information, visit and

— Reporter Raymond Rendleman contributed to this story.

by: FILE PHOTO: WILLAMETTE FALLS HERITAGE FOUNDATION  - Al Lewis demonstrates his working model of the locks for visitors to Lock Fest last year. He will be there again this year.

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