Willamette Falls Riverwalk Project
Willamette Falls Riverwalk Project (An Inside Tour)
Hi and welcome to another episode of Around The Neighborhood with me, Scott McMahon. This is the show about the quest for fun, history, and mystery in our backyard.
I’m here in Oregon City just above the Willamette Falls and what most recently was the Blue Heron Paper Company. A few episodes back I explored the history, and the mystery and the fun about this area. Haha. But I’m back again to give you an update on the Willamette Falls Riverwalk Project.
I was fortunate enough to get a tour of the facilities and got to take some photos and some video, but not to the degree that I could do a full blown episode like I normally do. Anyway, in this episode, I’m going to take you on a little stroll through the abandoned paper mill and what’s in store for the area for the whole world to enjoy.
So, here’s a quick recap of what’s happened here over the last few years. (There are a lot of folks and organizations and government groups involved with this, so sit tight!) Back in 2011, the Blue Heron Paper Company closed and filed for bankruptcy, which meant over 22 acres of this area was up for sale. Local, regional, and state governments came together to form the Willamette Falls Legacy Project. Their vision is to open up public access, provide jobs and opportunities, maintain and respect the local ecosystem, and connect all of us to the heritage and history of the falls. I’ll leave a link to their website in the description of this video so you can learn more.
The property fell into the bankruptcy courts and in 2014 a private investor bought this site for $2.2 Million. $2.2. Million!?
Anyway, soon after the Legacy Project committee partnership was formed, they realized that the creation of a non-profit would add another layer of support for the Riverwalk, and so the Willamette Falls Trust was formed. And they are a nonprofit organization who are trying to raise funds and engage the community to ensure that the new vision for a world-class Riverwalk at the Falls becomes a reality.
The Trust works closely with Willamette Falls Legacy Project along with the newest owners of the area, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, who bought the land in Summer 2020 for about $15 million from that former investor who essentially flipped his $2.2 Million investment into $15 Million by really doing nothing to the area.
Even though the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde own the land, there is an easement and an agreement that the Legacy Project can build a public walkway and other community buildings in the space for the public to enjoy. The Grand Ronde may be building additional commercial space or other approved buildings as the phases roll out.
Since one of the goals of the Willamette Falls Trust is to engage community support and engagement, this episode is to help do just that. Which is why I was able to get a tour of the facilities. Now, what you get to see is only a fraction of what is here and what is planned, but without further adieu, let’s start our tour! On with the voice over!
We start here at Main Street and Highway 99 East. There was a time when Main Street ran all the way down to the falls. In fact you’ll see later on where 3rd and 4th street cut across Main Street. Hopefully these historic streets will become accessible once again when this project is completed.
You can see railway tracks that go along main street. Large freight cars and trolley cars used to operate through here. I’d love to see trolley cars come back here to add to some vintage flair to the area.
Speaking of 3rd Street, here’s an old photo of it from 1945 … and here is what it looks like today. But what will it look like when the falls project is completed? I believe this area is a section that the Tribes of Grand Ronde will be developing.
As we walk down 3rd Street we pass what was once the Woolen Mill. In fact, the Willamette Falls Trust Legacy Project partners have identified specific buildings to be preserved and restored for historical enjoyment. I even heard a rumor that the McMenamin Brothers were out at the site at one point.
At the end of 3rd Street we end up at one of the first lookout points of the planned riverwalk. Final designs for Phase 1 are in the process and the Riverwalk team is working collaboratively with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde to ensure all parties needs are met.
Again, you’ll have to imagine what this place will look like when things are cleaned up and what kind of lookout structure is built.
We’re across what I believe would have been down 2nd street and we’re standing on top of an open structure that is intended to become a public yard. What’s crazy is that the structure we’re standing on covers the historic Tailrace Channel. It’s been closed off and filled with all sorts of things that you can only imagine. The goal of the Riverwalk is to open this channel back up and create an ecosystem for the fish to rest again before trying to get up the falls.
Speaking of 2nd Street, I believe this is the location of the original McLoughlin House before it was moved up the bluff to Center Street where it resides today.
There are numerous tanks and cylinders that have been left behind and one in particular is the Horton Sphere that housed sulfuric acid that was used to breakdown the pulp during the paper production process. My guess is that it’ll be cleaned out and preserved and added to the new development as a historic piece.
As we continue towards the falls we come across a section of the PGE Dam. So, there’s another party who will be vital to the development of the falls project. Portions of the land are owned by Portland General Electric, so it’ll be interesting to see what redevelopment can and cannot happen around this area.
This particular dam is PGE’s oldest and can power about 11,000 homes. Back in 1889 this was the nation’s longest transmission of electricity. Power was generated here and traveled over 14 miles away to light up the streetlights in Portland.
The Willamette Falls is much more than just the past 200 years of history here. It represents a culturally significant and meaningful place for the indigenous people that have been gathering here for long before the pioneers came.
One of the main objectives for the Willamette Falls Trust is to preserve and to tell the story of this historic place. So, thousands and thousands of years of humans coming to the falls, there is a lot to tell.
We all know Niagara Falls, but many people don’t know that the Willamette Falls is the 2nd largest waterfall by volume in North America. When the riverwalk project is completed, the public will gain access to this amazing wonder that has been mostly closed off for the past 150 years.
I’ll leave links to The Willamette Falls Trust in the description of this video if you want to sign up for their email updates and see where you can help in the massive undertaking.
Well I hope you liked this episode and since the show is sponsored by my real estate services, all my contact information is in the description of this video in case you are looking to buy or sell a home in the near future, please let me know. Until then, I’ll see you around the neighborhood.
▼ LINKS TO REFERENCES IN THIS VIDEO:
Willamette Falls Legacy Project: https://www.willamettefallslegacy.org/
Willamette Falls Trust: https://www.willamettefallstrust.org/
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