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Willamette Falls - Where the Future Began

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Rediscover The Falls Video from Willamette Falls Legacy Project on Vimeo.

For the first time in 150 years, Oregonians have the opportunity to rediscover a cultural and scenic treasure: Willamette Falls. A plan for a riverwalk to view the falls is taking shape, with the ultimate goal of transforming a 23-acre industrial site nestled along the falls in historic Oregon City. Willamette Falls is the largest waterfall in the Pacific Northwest, it was and still is an important cultural place for Native American tribes and the Oregon Trail ended here. 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. For the past 100 years industry grew and flourished on this site, but in 2011, the Blue Heron Paper Co. closed its doors – the last in a succession of businesses that contributed to Oregon City’s working waterfront.

When the paper mill closed its doors, Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro, the State of Oregon and the site's new owner, Falls Legacy, LLC, came together with four core values in mind: Public Access, Habitat Restoration, Economic Redevelopment and Historical and Cultural Interpretation. In 2013 and 2014 they launched and completed a public visioning for how the site can be redeveloped. This year the partners move forward to design a riverwalk, opening the falls to the public for the first time in over 100 years.

Stay tuned, and join us as we get ready to rediscover the falls.


Three Finalists Selected for Riverwalk Schematic Design Process

Oregonians are one step closer to experiencing Willamette Falls up close: The Willamette Falls Legacy Project has selected three finalists to design a public Riverwalk in downtown Oregon City. Listed alphabetically by prime consultant, the selected finalists are James Corner Field Operations with Place Studio and Miller Hull; Mayer/Reed with Snøhetta and Dialog; and Walker Macy with Thomas Balsley Associates .  A selection committee of representatives from the partners, owner, public, and design experts selected the three teams above from 14 submitted proposals. Final interviews will occur in early May.

Once we nail down the workplan with the winning team, they will dive into the project beginning in July.  This is when you come in - the chosen design team will seek your ideas and input, combine them with all of the technical aspects and requirements of the project, and devise a Riverwalk that fully realizes the four core values: public access, economic development, healthy habitat, and historic and cultural interpretation.

A robust and engaging public process to help define these elements will take place over the course of the 18 months. Oregonians will have multiple opportunities to weigh in on how to best bring people to Willamette Falls for the next 100 years and beyond.

We cannot wait to begin the next chapter of this story!


Request for Proposals Releases Today for Willamette Falls Schematic Design

We're excited to announce that today we will release a request for proposal seeking a premier multidisciplinary team to design the riverwalk to Willamette Falls. A collaborative, innovative and dynamic team will take the vision for the Willamette Falls riverwalk and make it a reality. This team will craft a world-class design that connects people back to the falls and creates a destination to inspire Oregonians and visitors from afar. Top design teams responding to the request for proposals will be invited to interview in March, and the winning team will be chosen from this group of finalists.

After the selected team completes the design and a phasing plan, the project partners intend to contract with the same team to complete full design, engineering and construction drawings for the first phase of the riverwalk.  Approximately $10 million has already been secured for the construction of this initial phase.

If you’d like to view the request for proposals when it goes live later today, please find it on the Metro website. All applicants must register through ORPIN. A reference copy can be found here.

To recap where we’ve been the past few months:

  • The mill site was purchased by George Heidgerken of Falls Legacy, LLC. He supports the Framework Plan and Vision Strategy created through the 2013-14 public process.
  • The project met the requirements set forth by the Governor’s Office to receive $5 million in state funding to go towards design (10%) and construction (90%) of the first phase of the riverwalk. Requirements included an easement on Falls Legacy, LLC property to develop the riverwalk, an option for an easement along the PGE dam, and the MOU that project partners signed in fall 2014.
  • The land-use zoning change for the site was approved by Oregon City Planning and City Commissions. The former mill site’s industrial zoning has been changed to a multimodal mixed-use zone – the Willamette Falls Downtown District.
  • Champions of the project have come together to form the Willamette Falls Legacy Project Friends Group. The group is currently developing a new name and mission statement and identifying work that it will take on. 

We can’t wait to see you during this next phase beginning in late spring and engage with us again as we design the riverwalk. Get ready to rediscover the falls.


We've reached a milestone!

We’re thrilled to announce that new agreements with a private developer and Portland General Electric have secured public access to Willamette Falls!

The agreements, easements at the mill site and along the PGE dam to the falls, will allow the Willamette Falls Legacy Project to move forward with plans for a public riverwalk along the river to the falls.  The project partners, including Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro, and the State successfully collaborated to reach this important milestone in the Willamette Falls Legacy Project. At a Metro Council meeting last night Councilor Carlotta Collette said “It will attract people not just from around the region, but it will attract people from around the country.” She added “If we do it right, it might attract people from around the world.”  Last month, Oregon City approved the Master Plan for the site, another important step in establishing public access to Willamette Falls.

George Heidgerken of Falls Legacy, LLC bought the former Blue Heron mill site earlier this year. With yesterdays’ announcement he stated “It’s a special place in Oregon, one-of-a-kind. People are going to want to be there.”

Read more coverage on the project at Metro, OPB, and the Portland Tribune.



Willamette Falls Legacy Project Wins Oregon ASLA Merit Award


At their November 14, 2014 Design Awards, the Oregon Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects awarded a Merit Award in Analysis and Planning to the Willamette Falls Legacy Project.

The 2014 Jury Panel included Charles Anderson FASLA, Ben Kasier, Kimberlee Stryker and Nicolas Rader. Winners were selected in the following categories: Award of Excellence, Honor Award, and Merit Award. Jury members discussed each of the awards in depth as winners were announced, providing attendees with valuable insight into the design community's recent work.


Mike Zilis, Principal with Walker Macy and lead for the Vision and Master Plan accepted the award on behalf of the team. “This award is a testament to the dedication and creativity the partnership and the consultant team has brought to establishing the vision for the site. The ASLA has recognized the importance of reconnecting the public to this incredible resource. We are truly honored to have been able to take part in its planning."

Tony Konkol, Oregon City Community Development Director, echoed Mr. Zilis’s remarks. “We are very proud of how the Vision and Master Plan involved such a diverse group of Oregonians and created a plan that, I believe, fully articulates the four core values of historic and cultural interpretation, healthy habitat, economic development and access to the falls, a resource that has not been truly accessible to Oregonians for over 150 years.  This plan provides a very strong but flexible base document for long-term site implementation and the upcoming schematic design for the Riverwalk.”




Master Plan Approved by Oregon City Commission

We are extremely pleased to announce that  the Oregon City Commission approved the Willamette Falls Legacy Project Master Plan Wednesday night!  The vote represents the first of many stages in the transformation of the 22-acre site from a vacant industrial site to a world-class mixed use destination in downtown Oregon City.

Thank you again to all who helped shape the Master Plan by contributing ideas, sharing opinions, and raising awareness.  The project partners could not have accomplished this task without the tremendous public interest and participation.  We owe all our partners and stakeholders congratulations today. Metro Councilor Carlotta Collette said it best in her editorial to the Clackamas Review this week:

“Oregon City provided critical leadership, ensuring its community values would be represented first and foremost in the future of the Blue Heron site. The state of Oregon, Metro and Clackamas County recognized the importance of Willamette Falls early on, providing financial and technical support for Oregon City’s work.

Our private sector partners have been important, as well. The development team, led by George Heidgerken, has helped us keep our forward momentum, recognizing the significance of the Blue Heron site and the potential Willamette Falls provides. PGE has been a great partner, as well, from day one, offering technical expertise as the owner of the hydropower plant at the falls.

Willamette Falls isn’t just a natural wonder. It’s an important heritage site for the first people who called the Willamette Valley home. The insight and support from the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde has been vital.

Oregon City’s vote to move forward recognizes this shared parentage — this huge success. It also signals the start of the rest of the project. We’re really just beginning.

Together, we are about to introduce our very special place to the rest of the region, the state, and the country. We should all feel like pretty proud parents.”

Site Tours November 21st

The staff of the Willamette Falls Legacy Project is happy to announce another opportunity for public tours of the former Blue Heron mill site!  On November 21st, staff, along with volunteers from the Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition, will lead hour-long tours of the site.   There are three time slots available – sign up at our Eventbrite page here

The link includes important details about the tour; we ask that you read these thoroughly before registering.


Planning Commission unanimously forwards application to City Commission

On September 22, 2014, the Oregon City Planning Commission unanimously forwarded a recommendation of approval of the Willamette Falls Master Plan to the City Commission for their consideration at the October 15th meeting. Past and future meetings can be viewed on the  agendas/minutes/videos section of the city website. (

Several of the Commissioner's acknowledged and complimented the work of the partners in the development of the master plan, the outstanding public engagement process that was completed and the product that was created with such overwhelming public support for such a complicated site. 


Land Use Application and Process for Public Comment  

In cooperation with the new owner of the former Blue Heron site, Oregon City, Metro, Clackamas County, and the State of Oregon are concluding a yearlong master plan and visioning process that will rezone the site to provide needed flexibility and certainty for a new generation of investors while reducing and removing barriers to redevelopment. The public process has articulated a future for the site that provides public access to the Falls, restores habitat, redevelops the property to honor the site’s past, and re-connects to Oregon City’s historic downtown. This place will feel like an extension of downtown, not a separate campus, and will include generous spaces for the public to experience the site and reconnect to the Willamette River.

The Blue Heron site, despite its stunning location on the Willamette Falls and its historical importance as the founding place of Oregon, also presents significant challenges to attracting private investment. The combination of market conditions, inadequate infrastructure, and challenging site conditions are all barriers to private development. We hope that the approach taken in the Master Plan balances these two forces and creates a future development program that aims high but provides a fair amount of flexibility for market implementation.

The new owner of the site has signed and submitted the application for a Zone Change and Master Plan.  Now it is up to the Planning Commission and City Commission to review it and make a decision.  Public comment and participation in the hearings process is welcome and encouraged.

What’s the Plan?

The Master Framework Plan outlines how development will generally occur, identifying key areas for public access, open space and development. It re-establishes the Main Street grid and creates connections for people to view majestic Willamette Falls.  The site will also change zoning, from industrial to a new mixed use zone that will allow commercial, residential and employment uses.

click to access the full application

The areas identified in green fall within the 1996 flood inundation area.  These areas are more suitable for open space and harder to redevelop. The numbered areas in yellow are mostly out of the flood area and are considered easier to develop. These areas will form new City blocks in downtown Oregon City. The light yellow areas contain structures that have opportunity for rehabilitation but are within the flood area. These parts of the site will need further refinement and may be a mix of open space and development.  In cooperation with the new owner, the master plan has been amended to include a new area in hashed red, which represents the most complicated area of the site that has some opportunity for new development above the flood plain but will require special development review.   The historic street grid is proposed to be reintroduced to the site.  Five historic structures outlined in black are required to be utilized in redevelopment through adaptive re-use or rehabilitation of some form.  The remaining buildings on site may be retained, but are not required to remain. A shared multiuse path (Riverwalk)along the riverfront, identified in orange, is also a requirement of the Framework Plan.  This walkway leads to a platform that provides fantastic viewing access to Willamette Falls.

The Land Use Process

This application represents the first stage in approving future development on the site. This application is for a zone change and comprehensive plan map amendment to the site, which establishes underlying uses and new development standards, and for the first stage of development approval. Oregon City has a two-step master planning process. This document is a framework for future development, or, in city terms, a general development plan. On-the-ground changes to the property, that is, actual design proposals for buildings or open space on the blocks laid out in this plan, require additional land use review.

The new site owner, George Heidgerken and his team at Falls Legacy LLC, are working closely with staff to move forward with the Master Plan. The Master Plan and corresponding Zone Change was submitted in mid-July with public hearings starting in September 2014.

How can I participate?

Your guidance and direction is vital to ensuring broad public support for the Master Plan, which is fundamentally needed for subsequent projects, such as the Riverwalk

Do you feel that the Master Plan has successfully incorporated the four values? Did we create a sufficient balance of certainty and flexibility to allow for long term implementation?

Let us know if you think the Master Plan is moving in the right direction.

You can attend a hearing and give public testimony, or you can send comments through the comment form on our project site, by mail to PO Box 3040, Oregon City OR 97045 or through email at

First time making public comments for a land use application? Take a look at our tips for  public comments primer for help in making effective comments.

Public hearings to adopt the plan will begin in early Fall and will be held at City Hall at 625 Center Street in Oregon City.

1st Planning Commission Meeting

September 8, 2014  6:00PM

2nd Planning Commission Meeting

September 15, 2014 6:00PM

3rd Planning Commission Meeting

September 22, 214 7:00PM

1st City Commission Meeting

October 15, 2014 7:00PM

2nd City Commission Meeting

November 5, 2014 7:00PM

3rd City Commission meeting

November 19,  2014 7:00PM



Visit the Willamette Falls Legacy Project Booth at the First City Celebration this Saturday

This Saturday, downtown Oregon City will be filled with art, beer, wine, music, living history actors, and a pretty important coin toss. Bring the family and stop by our booth. We will have updated project information, Community Champion tags and surveys and opportunities to tweet, and facebook your passion for the falls to your friends and family.  Look for us at the Main Street booth area near 7th Street. #firstcity2014 #portlandcointoss #willamettefalls


Saturday, July 26, 11:00 am - 9:00 pm
Main Street Oregon City

  • Over 100 juried artists
  • 14 local wineries, a brewery, a cider company and more
  • Food Vendors and Food Trucks
  • Business Marketplace
  • Live Entertainment 

Heritage Fair:

  • Heritage story site installations throughout event
  • Living history actors at multiple sites throughout downtown

The Portland Coin Toss

Way back in 1845, Francis Pettygrove from Portland, ME and Asa Lovejoy from Boston, MA held a coin toss to determine the name of what we now know as Portland, OR. Where did this coin toss occur?  

Why, in Oregon City!

Nearly 170 years later, we are reenacting the coin toss. Whichever side of the coin has the most votes by 8:00 pm on Saturday, July 26 will determine if Portland is the heads or tails side. Then watch the Coin Toss at 8:00 pm, July 26 in Oregon City's Liberty Plaza during Oregon's First City Celebration. Who will win? Portland or Boston?  Text HEADS or TAILS to 51555 to vote!


Master Plan Hearings Set for Fall 2014

It seems it was just yesterday that we were proudly announcing the start of the public visioning process for the former Blue Heron Paper Mill at the 2013 First City Celebration. The response, frankly, was overwhelming. Thousands of Oregonians came together over this last year to shape the future of Willamette Falls. They imagined a project that would do justice to the beauty of this place; that would honor the past and speak to the future.

The Blue Heron site, despite its stunning location on the Willamette Falls and its historical importance as the founding place of Oregon,  also presents significant challenges to attracting private investment. The combination of market conditions, inadequate infrastructure, and challenging site conditions are all barriers to private development. We hope that the approach taken in the upcoming Master Plan balances these two forces and creates a future development program that aims high but provides a fair amount of flexibility for market implementation.

The Framework Master Plan will solidify the community’s and owner’s vision, and clear barriers to redevelopment. It will give the owner flexibility to build everything from hotels to health clubs, museums to markets, offices to light industrial buildings. The Plan will ensure that development reflects and respects the site’s natural setting and industrial history, makes it easy to walk and bike, and blends in with downtown Oregon City, while creating a unique sense of place in the new waterfront district. It also ensures healthy habitat along the Willamette River and preservation of key historic structures when it’s feasible—and when it’s not, incorporation of artifacts into the design.

The new site owner, George Heidgerken and his team at Falls Legacy LLC, are working closely with staff to move forward with the Master Plan. The Master Plan and corresponding Zone Change is on track to be submitted next week with public hearings starting in September. Additional information on the hearings process and opportunities for public comment will be updated on this website in the coming weeks.



Tell us how we can realize the vision of the Willamette Falls Legacy Project. 

The Willamette Falls Legacy Project and our partners are currently conducting research to help us understand our growing community and our community’s capacity to keep our project moving forward. We are also conducting research to help us understand the feasibility of forming an official group to provide ongoing support to the Project in partnership with public and private agencies. We are one community, so please share your voice with us!

We would like you to share with us your background, opinions, and interests by completing our online survey:



A lot has happened in the last couple of weeks here at the Willamette Falls Legacy Project. There is a new site owner and a lot of information is being transfer to his team. What has not changed is the commitment to realize the vision that thousands of Oregonians have helped create. We hope to move forward with public hearings in late summer/early fall and will have those dates to you as soon as they are finalized.

The Framework Master Plan is expected to be approved in 2014, solidifying the community’s vision and clearing barriers to redevelopment. It gives a future developer flexibility to build everything from hotels to health clubs, museums to markets, offices to light industrial buildings. But some things aren’t negotiable: Developers will have to reflect and respect the site’s natural setting and industrial history. Make it easy to walk and bike. Blend in with downtown Oregon City, while creating a unique sense of place in the new waterfront district. Preserve key historic structures when it’s feasible – and, when it’s
not, incorporate artifacts into the design. Promote healthy habitat along the Willamette River. And build something that will last.



A Closer Look at One of the Four Core Values: Economic Development

Throughout the month of April, we have dedicated our blog posts to a deeper examination of the interrelated core values that guide the Willamette Falls Legacy Project vision and master plan.  We complete the series this week with an in-depth look at Economic Redevelopment, which is especially pertinent as economic redevelopment can only be realized by also achieving the interrelated goals of Public Access, Historic and Cultural Interpretation, and Healthy Habitat. 

The Willamette Falls property will carry on a tradition of economic development along the riverfront, where mills thrived for more than a century. The 175 jobs lost when the Blue Heron Paper Co. closed can be redressed through redevelopment. Returning part of the site to private developers, the partners will ensure the transformation supports Oregon City’s vision for the future and reinvigorates the downtown as a hub of employment, shopping, business and tourism. 


The master plan for Willamette Falls creates a regulatory framework with a balance between certainty and flexibility that encourages and enables revitalization of the site, and removes barriers to redevelopment. Changes to the site enabled by this plan will elevate it into a regional amenity and a four-season destination location, stimulate private investment and job creation, improve riparian habitat, and honor the unique heritage of the place. Site redevelopment will create a new market and an impetus for new development across Oregon City and the greater region.


The potential economic benefits of redevelopment include short-term construction jobs and permanent full time positions once construction is complete, as well as millions of dollars in annual tax revenue and estimated annual visitor spending.  Additional benefits are less quantifiable, but are equally important to Oregon City and Clackamas County’s ongoing economic development efforts. Redevelopment of the site transforms Oregon City’s downtown into an attraction that is important at the national level, bringing new energy and more people to downtown Oregon City’s existing businesses, and creating a completely unique place that all can enjoy.


Creating an amenity that respects the nationally-significant history of the site will require coordinated public action from local, regional, state, and federal sources. Investments in high quality public open space and access to the site’s major amenities (the river and the falls) are a critical first step in redeveloping the site. These actions will be necessary to begin the transformation of the site into an attractive location for private co-investment in redevelopment.

In the coming months, a land use application to rezone the industrial area to allow for a mix of uses is scheduled to go before the Oregon City Planning Commission.  You can help by giving verbal or written testimony.  For more information, contact Kelly Moosbrugger at


A Closer Look at One of the Four Core Values: Healthy Habitat

Over the past few weeks, we have taken an in-depth look two of the four interrelated core values that guide the vision and master plan: Public Access and Historic and Cultural Interpretation.  This week, we continue the series by exploring Healthy Habitat.

Historically, Willamette Falls was surrounded by plants dependent upon the microclimates associated with the waterfall mist.  Today, many rare plants thrive on river islands in the Willamette Narrows and along Canemah Bluff. The area also is important for water quality and the species that depend on clean, healthy water.  Much of the naturally steep shoreline has been modified by years of development and industrial uses and is now lined with fill, pipes, and other structures. Five outfalls and three industrial tailraces (drainage channels) emerge at the shoreline. 

Restoration actions will be developed to increase the presence and condition of native habitats and improve water quality on the site. The riverbank south of the site is also part of this project and offers additional opportunities for habitat restoration.  Among the opportunities for maintenance, restoration, protection and enhancement of a healthy habitat are:

  • Aquatic Habitat – salmon, steelhead and lamprey are known to pass through this part of the river, but don’t currently have adequate resting habitat.
  • Shorebirds – shorebirds use the falls, but access to rocky outcroppings is limited compared to the historical extents.
  • Basalt Geology – the site is mostly underlain with basalt bedrock similar to the falls, with some soils that could support new vegetation
  • Floodplain – flood events, including the 1964 and 1996 floods inundated portions of the site. The river below the falls is tidally influenced, with an average change in water level of approximately 3-4 feet, twice a day.

The master plan identifies areas along the riverbank where habitat enhancements and riparian bank restoration could occur. The general principle advanced by the master plan is for the riverbank to re-establish a rough edge and to meander in a pattern more indicative of its pre-industrial state, in order to allow more opportunities for fish to rest and riparian vegetation to thrive. Restoration and enhancement opportunities for improving fish and wildlife habitat can also provide improvements for water resources, including stormwater treatment and water quality. Specific habitat restoration targets include:

  • Riparian Habitat:  restoring native trees and shrubs along river; protecting and restoring rocky outcrops by removing buildings and structures; providing important habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife species; and improving water quality through filtration, stormwater attenuation, and woody debris and leaf litter inputs into the river.
  • Native Fish Habitat: restoring shoreline habitat complexity, including alcoves and inlets for cool water refugia and off-channel habitat during periods of high river flow; and providing important resting and movement habitat for anadromous fish species.
  • Water Quality: improving water temperature and chemistry above existing conditions at the site. In addition, re-establishing tail races to receive greater flows from the lagoon above will have multiple environmental benefits. The water quality of the lagoon will improve through circulation of fresh water through the area. Below, greater circulation would aerate water flowing through the tail races, thus providing a more welcoming habitat for fish and other riparian vegetation

The Willamette Falls Legacy Project provides an opportunity to enhance native habitats, protect and improve water quality for wildlife, reestablish native plant communities, and improve and sustain the natural systems that support a healthy environment.  Let us know how you can help restore a healthy habitat at Willamette Falls.  Sign up to become a Community Champion today!



A Closer Look at One of the Four Core Values: Historic and Cultural Interpretation

Throughout April, our weekly blogs will take an in-depth look the four interrelated core values that guide the vision and master plan. Last week we examined how we can ensure public access to the falls. This week we explore Historic and Cultural Interpretation.

Willamette Falls is rich with stories, history, and culture.  Since time immemorial, the falls have served as an important cultural site for native tribes and is mentioned prominently in the oral literature and stories of Native peoples. 

As the end of the Oregon Trail and the birthplace of Oregon, this area served as a launching point for thousands of new Oregonians. The administrative center of a growing U.S. territory, Oregon City utilized a grid of streets laid atop the basalt. Long before streets were platted in Seattle, Portland or San Francisco, Oregon City’s Main Street extended from the falls, through this site and north through the basalt bench, becoming the spine of a thriving Pioneer community.

The falls also tell the story of the area’s industrial development. The Willamette River offered relatively cheap and efficient transportation, abundant fresh water, and the power generated by the drop over the falls.  Oregon City became known for production of forest products and also was a logical point for grinding grains to produce flour and meal. Over time, sawmills and flouring mills gave way to woolen mills which were eventually replaced by paper manufacturing. The worker-owned Blue Heron Paper Company was created in 2000 and closed on February 23, 2011, ending 125 years of continuous paper mill use of the site.

Oregon City 1904 (CCHS all Rights Reserved)

The Willamette Falls Legacy Project seeks to provide opportunities for visitors and residents to learn about this historic site, its geologic history, its Native American heritage, and the end of the Oregon Trail.  This includes increasing awareness of all aspects of the cultural and historic significance of Willamette Falls, respecting and accommodating Native American salmon fishing and lamprey harvest traditions, highlighting the national importance of industrial development and commemorating the events that lead to the birth of Oregon.

Project partners have initiated a dialogue with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, the Willamette Valley Treaty Tribe which ceded much of the land in the Willamette Valley to settlers, including Willamette Falls and the Blue Heron mill site. Team members have also reached out to other Tribes with an interest in the area, including the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.


lamprey harvest -Oregonian all rights reserved 

The Willamette Falls Legacy Project site is among the most historic places in Oregon. Today, many of the built resources on the property have a strong and significant association with Oregon’s industrial history. The site’s built resources and history are valuable assets from a cultural, economic and environmentally sustainable development standpoint. A repurposed site, retaining a strong connection to its past and creatively transformed to new uses, can continue the important role this property has played in the region’s history.

Specific economic benefits also support the retention and reuse of some of the historic resources that cannot be captured by non-historically based development. The Willamette Falls site is not currently located within a local or National Register Historic District and there are currently no locally designated historic structures located on the property. Oregon’s State Historic Preservation Office indicated that 14 of the buildings located on site are contributing historic structures that are potentially eligible for listing
on the National Register of Historic Places. However, many of these buildings were custom built for industrial processing and have limited options for market-based redevelopment.

The expectation of the master plan is that future development will retain the historic character of the industrial site at a very fundamental level, and incorporate some of its historic resources into future development plans. Five primary historic structures identified in the plan—De-ink, Mill O, Hawley, No. 4 Paper Machine, and Woolen Mill Foundations—are particularly important, and should ideally be preserved or adaptively reused. These structures can also play an important role in creating a strong identity for the site, especially when combined with public access and open spaces. Other structures may also be incorporated into the design of a future project, as appropriate, since many of them also give a unique character to the property.  Lastly, care should be taken to refrain from concentrating all of our efforts on the existing 20th Century industrial buildings at the exclusion of tribal and territorial era stories.

Like an onion, the layers of history that are connected to the site, once unpeeled, can provide a much deeper understanding of the power of this place.



A closer look at one of the four Core Values: Public Access

Throughout April, our weekly blogs will explore the four interrelated core values that guide the vision and master plan.  This week, we take an in-depth look at Public Access.  Willamette Falls has been essentially closed to the public for 150 years, with access limited to approaching by boat or viewing from a highway overlook.  Public access goals for the project include:

  1. Providing a front-row seat to experience the majestic Willamette Falls
  2. Expanding opportunities for public spaces along the river
  3. Creating connections for people to the river, downtown, and natural environment in Oregon City

The vision and master plan propose a number of exciting opportunities to achieve these goals.

Circulation. The historic street grid is restored to facilitate walking and biking and enhance vehicular access.  Main Street connects to the north provide public access to the Falls and a seamless extension of downtown Oregon City.  Along the riverbank, Water Street once again extends into the site, using the Riverwalk esplanade as a generous sidewalk.

Riverwalk.  The Riverwalk creates continuous public access to view the river. It links a series of overlooks and docks along the river’s edge and connects to the street grid and future open spaces.  Trees, benches and river overlooks create a memorable gateway to Willamette Falls and beyond. 

Viewing Platform.  The PGE dam presents a unique opportunity to create a public walkway over the river.  Visitors gain access on the dam’s surface allowing them to walk out to an existing platform providing an intimate view of the Falls.

Connections.  An existing rail spur is transformed into a continuous path south along the riverfront and a new pedestrian bridge allows for safe access to the Canemah Bluffs Natural Area and the regional bicycle network.  Bank restoration on the river’s edge provides beautiful views and a shaded edge to the trail.

Public access along the waterfront and to Willamette Falls is the first and most important step to restoring public access. The Riverwalk will be a catalyst for economic development in Oregon City and enhance the value of development on the site.  It also will bring visitors to the site and generate energy and momentum for continued implementation of the master plan.  The project partners (Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro and the State of Oregon) recently agreed to seek sources of funding to design the Riverwalk. 

Show your support for restoring public access to Willamette Falls – sign up to become a Community Champion today!


Project Update for April 2014

For the past nine months, thousands of Willamette Falls Legacy Project supporters have helped shape a vision and master framework plan for the former Blue Heron site. That work is nearly ready to go before the Oregon City Planning Commission and City Commission in the form of a zone change and a master plan.  The first public hearing of the Planning Commission was scheduled for April 21, 2014.  Since then, several developers have made offers to purchase the Blue Heron property.  The current interested buyer is studying the site and framework plan, and meeting with Legacy Project partners to explore how their ideas for the area fit our community vision. Last week, the bankruptcy trustee for the site, Peter McKittrick, sent a letter requesting that the City postpone the land use hearings to give the potential buyer more time for due diligence. As the trustee and the project partners have been working in good faith for many months, the partners are happy to accommodate this request.

Mr. McKittrick’s letter describes the value of the visioning and planning effort, stating “I believe this planning project has already created increased recognition and value for the site.”

A new date for the first public hearing has not yet been determined.  However, the City will host a public Open House on April 21st from 6:00 to 8:00 PM at City Hall, 625 Center Street, to display the proposed master plan. This informal event will offer a chance to chat with City staff about the Willamette Falls Legacy Project prior to public hearings.

In the meantime, momentum is not slowing down - the partners are hard at work on implementation of the plan.  We are beginning to seek funding for a riverfront walkway that will catalyze the entire site and downtown area.  In addition, more than 150 people have signed up as community champions.  The champions have pledged to lend a hand to the project by writing letters of support, volunteering to organize site tours, and being part of a “Friends of Willamette Falls” group in the future.  Sign up to become a champion and let us know how you’d like to be a part of this once in a generation opportunity!


The Working Falls

The legacy of Willamette Falls, is one of its natural beauty and cultural and social significance, as well as its central role in the industry and economy of the Portland region.  Through most of the 1800s, the Falls were the stopping point for steamboat traffic, providing trade to Oregon and Linn cities on both banks of the river.  The completion of the Willamette Falls Locks in 1873 allowed river traffic and commerce to move freely up and down the Willamette. 

Willamette Falls’ industrial legacy is also one of generating electricity and powering mills.  Portland General Electric (PGE) built a hydro-electric generation facility at the falls in 1888.  Just one year later, a 14-mile transmission line to Portland became the site of the first long distance transmission of electrical energy in the history of the world.  No longer tied to electricity-generating facilities, this innovation shaped the form of the modern city.  In 1895, PGE constructed the Station B facility, which is still in operation today.

Willamette Falls was powering saw mills before electricity was even invented.  Dr. John McLoughlin built what may have been the first industrial saw mill west of the Mississippi to produce the lumber from which Oregon City was built.  Over the next 30 years, flour, brick and woolen mills followed.  The woolen mill went on to become the largest of its kind in the West, before closing operations during the great depression. The first paper mill at Willamette Falls, Oregon City Paper Manufacturing Co., opened in 1866 launching and industry that would employ thousands of Oregonians for the next 150 years and beyond.  Only one mill, the West Linn Paper Company, remains today after the Blue Heron Paper Company shut its doors in 2011.

1950s Publishers Paper Mill Workers -Clackamas County Historical Society All Rghts Reserved


The Willamette Falls Legacy Project seeks to continue the legacy of the Working Falls by transforming the former Blue Heron Paper Company site into a hub of employment, shopping, business and tourism.  In the coming months, a land use application to rezone the industrial area to allow for this mix of uses is scheduled to go before the Oregon City Planning and City Commissions.  Look for additional information on effective ways to make public comments in future blog posts.



Rediscover the Falls!


Some 15 million years ago a series of volcanic eruptions spewed the largest rivers of molten lava ever seen on earth across the Pacific Northwest.  Enormous flows of basalt lava poured down the Columbia River channel and into the Pacific Ocean.  The lava eventually solidified into basalt, shaping much of the Oregon we know today, including the Columbia River Gorge and Willamette Falls.


Today, more than 20,000 cubic feet of water cascades 42 feet over Willamette Falls each second.  Not nearly as tall as the more famous Multnomah Falls (627 feet), it is the largest waterfall by volume in the Pacific Northwest and second only to Niagara Falls (100,000 cfs) in all of North America.  The Falls’ horseshoe shape spans 1,700 feet across the river from the former site of the Blue Heron Paper Mill to the West Linn Paper Company.


For centuries, the Falls have served as a focal point of culture, community and industry.  Now you can rediscover this Oregon treasure.  For a front seat view of Willamette Falls, call 503-722-3789 or to add your name to a future public tour of the former Blue Heron Paper Mill site.







Latest Community Conversation Presentation Now Available Online

Willamette Falls Legacy Project staff are continuing to meet with local organizations, businesses, and stakeholder groups. Some of these are brand new to the project and we get to see their first reactions when they realize the potential onsite, while others have been with us from the beginning and are digging into the weeds of details. We are so grateful and humbled by the support and enthusiasm we see from the general public and core value stakeholders. Many have asked for a link to the recent community conversation presentation document.  Feel free to click on the link below to review and share with others.

 click on the photo to download the presentation


Hundreds Converge to Celebrate the Willamette Falls Legacy Project

Last Thursday, approximately 300 residents from across the region gathered at Keen Headquarters in Portland to celebrate the vision and spread the word about this historic opportunity.  A good time was had by all, as participants posed for pictures in front of a life-sized backdrop of the falls, viewed and entered a raffle for photos of the falls by Mark Gamba, previewed the vision and master plan, and enjoyed refreshments from Nicholas Restaurant, A to Z Wineworks and Ecliptic Brewing.  Elected officials thanked those in attendance for their support and toasted to continued success.  Nearly 100 new Community Champions pledged to help make the vision a reality.


Were you unable to attend the celebration?  There are still many ways to show your support for the Legacy Project.  Beginning on April 21, a land use application to help implement the vision by rezoning the industrial area to allow a mix of uses will go before the Oregon City Planning Commission.  You can help by giving verbal or written testimony in support of the Framework Master Plan.  For more information, contact Kelly Moosbrugger at If you have already signed up as a champion, look for an informational email from us in the coming weeks on effective ways to testify.