Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition looks for national designation and the potential it could have for area tourism

The Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition is looking for a national designation that could help boost tourism efforts in a wide area that includes Canby.

Siobhan Taylor sees the potential that springs from the Willamette River and rushes over the land to the south, a potential that could offer special things to areas like Canby, Aurora and Molalla.

And she's not alone. There's a slew of involved folks who are members of the Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition looking to take a 56-mile area that extends from Estacada to the river, to the people – and then have the people come to the area.

"From Estacada it comes down to the Willamette to all these areas that do have a tie to Willamette Falls," said Taylor, who is the executive director of the coalition. "This area was a gathering place for the first peoples of the area. It was the site of settlement, of industry at the falls. It had a huge effect on the agricultural community. This is a big trail we're working to connect."

The coalition has already won state heritage area status, but has its eyes on a bigger prize – national heritage status. With that, there's a lot the coalition can do throughout this area, said Taylor.

"We want to be recognized as a national heritage area in order to preserve and tell our history," she said. "Currently, we are being funded through our partner organizations and grants. We are doing a marketing and economic development assessment of the entire area through Clackamas County Tourism.

"At the national level, it allows us to tap into resources of the National Parks Service," she added. "It's important to note that it does not impact private property -- that remains private. But we can tap into national advertising and promotion resources, and allows for a small budget that would come to us."

Interestingly enough, though Oregon (and the Pacific Northwest in general) has contributed mightily to this country's development through agriculture, timber and other resources, there is no national heritage status site on the West Coast.

There are sites in Colorado, Alaska and Arizona, but most of the designations reside on the East Coast. Taylor wants to see that change.

Taylor doesn't think that's representative of this area's contributions. She and her group, which includes Canby residents Carol Palmer serving on the board and John Serlet on the advisory council, would like to change that. A national heritage status designation would open doors that would be valuable to this area, said Taylor. While the river and Willamtte Falls area have plenty of potential from a tourism and economic development perspective, Taylor thinks that potential is ripe within all the communities within the 56-mile radius.

"The beauty of this would be that it engages local government, as well as private business owners, industry, heritage stakeholders and more," said Taylor. "We are crossing government and business lines. We are working together beautifully and where do you see economics and preservation mix and mingle like that?

"We want to grow this upriver, specifically for the Canby and Aurora areas," she added. "We have some wonderful heritage communities and we would work to promote each other's events, support each other's heritage efforts and support small business in those heritage areas. Those small businesses would cater not only to us, but to more tourists coming into the area. We are a much more enticing loop through the entire area than if we were just little silohs working on our own. Hopefully, we can put some heads in beds at local hotels, as well as local restaurants."

Taylor emphasized that the story out here is unique and a vital one for the growth of this country – and that it needs to be told.

"Without what was happening out here in Oregon, this wouldn't be the America that it is now," she said. "Once you get national status, you can piggyback on efforts toward international tourism. You have more of a budget to facilitate groups coming here and directing them to places like Canby, Molalla or Aurora. We have river landings and the potential for a lot more water tours and there's all the wineries in the area. There are things for people to experience here. National status will allow us to tap into those thing more and more."

Currently, the Willamette Falls Heritage Area Coalition has a feasibility study that is being revised with the State Historic Preservation Office. Taylor said that should be done in November, then it will head to the National Parks Service for their decision.

"This is our final time submitting it," said Taylor. "Hopefully, in the new year they will approve us. The really great part of all of this is our Congressional delegation: Rep. Kurt Schrader, Sen. Ron Wyden, and Sen. Jeff Merkley are all very supportive. Schrader, since most of us are in Schrader's district, is interested in just taking it back and giving it to Congress because they have the ultimate power to approve us as a National Heritage Area. We will be presenting the final document to him, hopefully in November or December."

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