Sunday, August 10, 2014

slide show of tour of former Blue Heron Paper Mill, Willamette Falls

On the day we moved to Oregon City, we found a local newspaper in our mailbox and the headline was regarding a new push by local government to open up Willamette Falls to the public.

I explain: Willamette Falls is a gorgeous waterfall in the Willamette River in Oregon City.  It is because of the falls that Oregon City is the "first city".  The pioneers recognized the power of the water and stayed to utilize it.  The result was that the city focused on industry and turned its back on nature and tourism.  Huge mills, dams, and power generators were built around the falls.  The state set up one viewpoint a long distance away, and the city set up some crappy viewpoints, and that's it.  The falls just really are not accessible to the public since you have to know where to go and where to look.  Therefore it is Multnomah Falls that is Oregon's biggest tourist attraction, and Willamette Falls is Oregon's biggest secret.

Oregon City is on one side of the Willamette River, and happens to own the falls.  The other side of the river is West Linn, and they get to look at the falls.  Both cities have huge paper mills built on the river.

In 2011, the Oregon City mill, called Blue Heron Paper Mill, went bankrupt and closed permanently.  The site was put up for auction and was purchased by a company whose only intention was to gut it for recycling.  And then the site was put up for sale again.  And so it happened that when we moved here in Feb 2013, state and local government had just met for the purpose of deciding what to do with this difficult piece of property.  Though it may be cynical of me to say, it is likely that one of the main reasons they met to discuss public access was because the mill property was otherwise unsellable due to the complexity of the riverside location, the age of the structures, the industrial history, and the fact that the property contains acres of underground structure beneath the surface structures.

Nonetheless, we were thrilled about whatever motivation the city and state have to redevelop the site into something for the public.We are among thousands who responded to many public surveys regarding the site.  I told the city officials I thought it was shameful to allow the falls (that our mayor compares to Niagara falls) to remain hidden for over a hundred years.

The site has now been purchased, with the intention of the private owner to provide an easement for public access and develop the site with both preservation and tourism in mind.  A riverwalk is said to be the first part of the project that will be completed, because if you build it, they will come.

The reason I know all this is because I was one of only 130 in the last weekend of July, who got a private tour of the site.  I really just wanted to get closer to the falls and didn't really care much about the mill, but by the end of the tour I loved the mill as well.

It took me 2 weeks to write this post and the slideshow, but at last here it is. Click below or here.

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