For the first time in 150 years, Oregonians have the opportunity to rediscover a cultural and scenic treasure: Willamette Falls. A public vision and master plan are taking shape, with the goal of transforming a 23-acre industrial site nestled along the Falls in historic Oregon City. This former paper mill could someday serve as an economic engine, a waterfront destination, a unique habitat, a window into Oregon’s past – and a bold step into our future.
Whatever develops on the landscape will be shaped by Willamette Falls, roaring in the Willamette River below. The largest waterfall in the Pacific Northwest, it was long an important cultural and gathering place for Native American tribes. The Oregon Trail ended here. And throughout the 1800s, the Falls made history by generating energy for Oregon’s early industries and cities and fueling the nation’s first long-distance electrical power transmission. That industrial legacy ended in 2011, when the Blue Heron Paper Co. closed its doors – the last in a succession of businesses that contributed to Oregon City’s strong working waterfront.
The former paper mill is for sale, but the site’s complexity and risks have slowed down a transformation. That’s why Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro, the State of Oregon and the property’s bankruptcy trustee are working together to develop a vision and master plan. By rezoning the site and providing certainty for investors, the Willamette Falls Legacy Project will help a new era take shape along the Falls.
There’s a lot at stake. If the property is abandoned, the resulting blight would hurt property values in downtown Oregon City, one of the region’s most important economic hubs. Public safety risks and extra costs would burden taxpayers. Water quality and wildlife would deterioriate in one of the Willamette River’s most ecologically diverse stretches. And Oregon City wouldn’t recover the 175 family-wage jobs that vanished along with the paper mill.
With master planning underway, Oregonians can establish a statewide legacy and reconnect Oregonians and visitors with Willamette Falls. They can define how the area is transformed for economic redevelopment, public access, healthy habitats, and historical and cultural interpretation.
Visit the official project website at: www.rediscoverthefalls.com and share your ideas about this Oregon City site.