Opportunities are coming together at the end of the Oregon Trail for our signature waterfall and it’s abutting communities: Envision river level access to the second largest waterfall by volume in America; picture our 1873 canal and locks reopened for river barging, recreational boating and tourism; imagine new uses for the former Oregon City Blue Heron mill site stressing heritage values, falls access, environmental restoration and smart economic development.

West Linn seeks a master plan and implementation strategy for the Oregon City-West Linn Arch Bridge/Bolton area to maximize its potential to generate heritage tourism and improved access and visibility of the falls and locks. ( Downtown Oregon City is coming alive with businesses dedicated to restoring and preserving the city’s vintage buildings and public facilities thanks to city government and support from the nonprofit Main Street organization ( That venerable city (working with Metro, state agencies, Clackamas County and the bankruptcy trustee) has launched Willamette Falls Legacy Project ( to plan future uses of the 22-acre Blue Heron mill site. The goals include increasing public access to the falls; protecting the property’s historical and ecological values; and making the site more attractive to private investors. Nonprofits (Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation (, One Willamette River Coalition (, Historic Preservation League of Oregon (which named the locks an Oregon Endangered Place) and the National Trust for Historic Preservation ( have joined forces to get the 140-year-old Willamette Falls Locks restored, reopened and ownership transferred from the Corp of Engineers to a local entity or partnership so the locks can resume its historic roles in river transportation, recreation, tourism and commerce. A West Linn citizen task force has developed an array of possible land use options for the 39 acres of former Blue Heron property on the West Linn side of the river but await more information about the site’s remediation needs before holding more discussions and making recommendations. The Oregon nonprofit Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition (WFHAC) ( is nearing completion of a feasibility study needed for Congress to declare our area a National Heritage Area (a non-regulatory congressional designation of areas with stories of national significance). Because of the settlement and industrial development at the falls at the end of the Oregon Trail, America secured its expansion to the Pacific. The WFHAC wants to enhance public appreciation for the historical industrial sites (the falls powered the world’s first long-distance transmission of electricity) while supporting existing and future industrial, commercial and recreational opportunities. The overarching goal uniting these opportunities should be a win-win for economic development, heritage, tourism, transportation and commerce, with consideration along the way for healthy differences of opinion about how the multiple and varied interests within the falls area should be accommodated.

Your support and voice can help shape the efforts to make the falls the destination pearl it deserves to be. Plan to come to the Falls Festival (sponsored by the WFHAC) and Lock Fest (sponsored by the WFHF) on Oct. 5 and 6 to enjoy what we already have and dream of what the future could hold. An engaged citizenry with large-tent vision can make this perfect storm of opportunities go beyond a question mark and end with an exclamation mark! Jim Mattis is president of the WFHF and secretary of the WFHAC and is a West Lin resident.

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