-  Oregon Heritage commission approves Willamette Falls tourism plan -

The Willamette Falls Heritage Area, which encompasses 26 square miles of natural and historic areas of Oregon City, West Linn and Lake Oswego, last week earned Oregon’s first State Heritage Area designation through a unanimous vote of the Oregon Heritage Commission.

PHOTO COURTESY: JONATHAN STONE - Cutting the cake to celebrate the Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition's success are Jody Carson, vice president; Alice Norris, president of the WFHAC; and David Lewis, chairman of the Oregon Heritage Commission meeting at the Coos History Museum.The designation culminates a nine-year effort by the Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition, a partnership of a variety of governmental agencies, businesses, arts, heritage and historic preservation groups.

Six governments within the Willamette Falls Heritage Area boundary were each represented on its 23-member board: Metro, Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Clackamas County, Oregon City, Lake Oswego and West Linn.

PHOTO COURTESY: WILLAMETTE FALLS HERITAGE AREA COALITION - Willamette Falls is visible is the background as a historic car crosses the Oregon City Arch Bridge, restored to its 1922 grandeur in 2012.The area includes 40 listings on the National Register of Historic Places; many more are deemed eligible for national designation. Numerous historic, scenic and geologic structures throughout the area include the historic Willamette Falls Locks (1873), a 125-year-old working paper mill, a 119-year-old working power generation plant, the only surviving Civil War era (1866) iron furnace west of the Rockies and America’s first — and only — outdoor municipal elevator (1915, rebuilt in 1955).

“This marks a critical moment in the direction of the Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition and its goals by achieving state designation and further rooting us for more accomplishments ahead,” said Alice Norris, president of the WFHAC board of directors, and former mayor of Oregon City. “We thank the Oregon Heritage Commission for recognizing the importance of this area, and for setting a high bar for designation that makes this an exceptional accomplishment.”

The WFHAC formed in 2006 to advocate for, and strengthen the identity and economy of, the communities around Willamette Falls by preserving, enhancing and promoting the nationally distinctive stories of the area. They found that the federal and state heritage areas programs aligned with the goals of the WFHAC, which are to cultivate public-private partnerships to develop its natural, cultural, industrial, scenic, recreational, and historic resources.

The heritage area will be managed by Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition (WFHAC), which has plans for a celebration in late summer or early fall of this year.

“Out of this State Heritage Area designation, we intend to foster ‘heritage tourism,’ drive key economic development, and enhance cultural offerings in and around Oregon City, West Linn, Lake Oswego and beyond. But this is an equally important milestone as we move toward designation at the national level,” Norris said.

The Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition has operated as a nonprofit since 2011 with a focus on securing Congressional designation as a National Heritage Area, a completely separate program. Now that’s it’s been successful on the state level, the coalition will be able to promote the region as a state heritage area and get ongoing technical assistance to develop its goals through the Oregon Parks & Recreation Department.

A federally recognized designation would encourage visitors to “explore the rich and authentic heritage of U.S. Western expansion.” During most of the 1800s, the political and commercial action in America’s West centered around Willamette Falls and Oregon City. Geologic constraints, trade barriers and the lack of a deep-water port eventually put the commercial heyday of Willamette Falls in the history books.

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