- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

OREGON CITY, Ore. (AP) - After remaining obscured from view for more than a century, Willamette Falls is slated to reopen to the public as part of a grand riverfront redevelopment project near downtown Oregon City.

An agreement between local officials and private developers recently finalized will fund the construction of a new river walk next to the falls, the first step in a broader plan to create a tourism hub highlighting the area’s historic impact on western settlement.

The new walkway would run along the northernmost edge of the U-shaped falls near a dam owned by Portland General Electric. Officials hope to eventually extend it south to Old Canemah Park, although that wouldn’t happen for several years.

Here in 1829, Hudson’s Bay Company merchant John McLoughlin claimed a plot of land that would become Oregon City, the first incorporated U.S. city west of the Rocky Mountains. Manifest destiny caught on - the falls became a welcome sight for pioneers who survived the perilous journey across North America.

In time, the end of the Oregon Trail became a hub for timber processing, paper and hydroelectric energy. For 150 years, industrial buildings blocked any close view the falls - the second largest in the U.S. in terms of volume, behind Niagara Falls.

“They’re these magnificent falls that nobody gets to see,” said Sandy Carter, a co-founder of the Willamette Falls Heritage Foundation. “Just having access to that will be great for both Oregonians and visitors.”

The redevelopment area sits on the site of the old Blue Heron paper mill near the base of the falls. The 23-acre complex has been empty since the company folded in February 2011.

The property was purchased for $2.2 million this past May by George Heidgerken, a little-known developer who also owns property in Washington.

Metro officials hope to begin drafting the river walk design by early spring. The first construction phase could begin sometime in late 2016.

“The river walk is key for the general public to get a real feel for what goes on down there,” Heidgerken said in a statement. “This is going to be the first chance for the general public to be on site, and it’ll be a great introduction to what Willamette Falls is all about.”

In addition, the Metro Council approved a resolution supporting the opening of the Willamette Falls Locks, a now-defunct system that opened in 1873 to allow cargo boats to navigate the Willamette River.

A group of community supporters hope to reopen the locks, which also closed in 2011, and make them a destination for sightseeing boat tours.

“This is where Oregon started,” Darlene Hooley, a former U.S. Representative from West Linn, said at a recent Clackamas County Board of Commissioners meeting. “To not preserve it and make sure people experience it, I think would be a travesty.”

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The original story can be found on The Oregonian’s website: https://bit.ly/1xaEv27

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Information from: The Oregonian, https://www.oregonlive.com


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