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“Oregon City is in the midst of pivoting from the past to the future,” Kristin Dahl told a large gathering of attendees at the April 19 meeting of the Oregon City Business Alliance. The group came together to hear Sam Drevo and others speak about the proposal “Oregon City Whitewater Park: An Opportunity for Tourism and Economic Growth.”


A rendering of the proposed Oregon City Whitewater Park shows kayakers in one of the channels. Drevo, one of the key people in the development of the whitewater park proposal is the founding board member and president of We Love Clean Rivers and owner of eNRG Kayaking, his small business located on Clackamette Drive in Oregon City.

For those who have never heard of a whitewater park, Drevo explained that the park at the Falls Legacy would be “an excavated and engineered concrete channel that would flow around the site from above the falls, and re-enter below the falls. This would be a controlled channel with low-flow fish passage and would allow for whitewater recreation and safety training, and would work well with the historic significance of the site to enhance the destination at Willamette Falls.”

Outdoor recreation

SUBMITTED PHOTO/RENDERING - The Bend Whitewater Park, located in the Deschutes River in the Old Mill District, opened on Feb. 27. As the meeting began, Dahl, vice president of destination development for Travel Oregon, a department of the Oregon Tourism Commission, noted that “outdoor recreation needs to take a key role in Oregon’s economy,” now that the state is “facing tremendous growth.”

And, she added, a “world-class asset,” like a whitewater park, could “improve the quality of life [in Oregon City], and draw visitors” to the area.

Danielle Cowan, executive director, Clackamas County Tourism & Cultural Affairs, noted that her organization is working to deliver tourism to the county through the tourism-development grant project.

And, she noted, the Oregon City whitewater park project was put together by We Love Clean Rivers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cleaning high-use rivers by mobilizing the river recreation community in partnership with local environmental, recreational and educational organizations.

The proposal would situate the whitewater park near Willamette Falls, thus combining Oregon City’s heritage and culture with outdoor recreation possibilities.

Calling the whitewater park proposal “an amazing opportunity,” Cowan added that historically, Oregon City has been “the center of government, commerce and culture. It was the first place that electricity was transmitted, and the city has been an economic engine. There is a lot of interest in this project [that would] develop our assets.”

Park proposal

Next on the agenda was Drevo, who told the gathering that he was first exposed to a whitewater park when he was 12, made the junior world’s team in whitewater kayaking, and has traveled the globe teaching at whitewater parks.

He then introduced two men who came together to study the feasibility of siting a whitewater park in Oregon City, Scott Shipley and Mark Buckley.

Shipley is an engineer who has made a career in whitewater park design; he is the president of S2O Design, a company that offers all the services any community could need when contemplating the many factors that go into designing a safe, fun and sustainable whitewater recreation facility.

He also is among the best-known American kayakers in the world today, and a veteran of three Olympic Games — in 1992, 1996 and 2000 — and holder of four world titles in whitewater kayaking.

Buckley develops economic models and analytical methods for planning and behavior involving water resources and land management for ECONorthwest, a company that provides expertise in economics, finance and planning to public- and private-sector clients worldwide. He holds a doctorate in environmental studies and a degree in economics.

Both men talked about the advantages to Oregon City of putting a world-class park in the heart of the area.

This is a historic moment for the city, with the opening up of Willamette Falls to the public, for the first time in 100 years, Shipley said.

“This is an amazing site and once it opens up, [there will be] a lot of people coming to your town, not only to look at Willamette Falls, but to stay and get outdoors,” he said.

The proposed design of the OC whitewater park would change the backdrop of the falls, at the same time respecting the history of the city and the mill.

“We would create something that is not cookie-cutter; that would showcase what this community’s about,” Shipley said.

He further noted that nine out of the 10 people who come to a whitewater park never get wet, but instead come to do other things, like picnic, walk, bike and watch the whitewater kayakers.

But, he noted, “the whitewater park adds to the experience of why they come here, and that will have an economic impact on the community.”

Buckley noted that a park like this will be expensive to build, but there is a demand for resources and “outdoor recreation requests are growing at an incredible pace.”

He added that Willamette Falls is a “niche that no one else has, and [the proposed park] is an opportunity to invest in that.”

Undeveloped resource’

There were plenty of questions directed to the three men about the cost of building the park and overall benefits to the city.

Shipley said the rough cost estimates to build the whitewater park depend on the redevelopment of the site, but noted that it probably would cost between $12 and $25 million.

But the park would create as many 120 jobs in the area, and bring in “hundreds of millions of dollars over the lifespan of the site,” he added.

“We have to look at how tourism can fund infrastructure, and the community would need to look for ways to see that nonlocals pay their share,” Buckley said.

“We would try to create an environment for people to have enough to do and to stay overnight. We want this to be a destination,” Shipley said.

“I spend all my time on the river, and I see it as an undeveloped resource,” Drevo told the gathering.

“This is a mecca of river confluence, and we have been meeting with agencies all along the way. We are doing our best to put [this proposal] out there,” he added.

“This is a community effort, and we need feedback. We need to figure out if we can do this,” Drevo said.

“Because of the topographical layout of Willamette Falls and the water rich environment at the falls, this is an ideal location for such an amenity,” he said.

Drevo added, “This location would not need pumps, which is a considerable competitive advantage over other excavated whitewater parks that spend about $1 million per year in electricity costs to pump water. We have all the right conditions for a pumpless park, and are working with project partners to ensure flow regimes and fish concerns are mitigated.”

“This project is very feasible,” Shipley said, adding, “There are environmental benefits, and it fits the cultural heritage. And we know, based on studies [of other whitewater parks] that it could bring in a million people [a year].”

Years in the making

The proposal is the result of three years of research to site a whitewater park in Clackamas County and has been supported by a We Love Clean Rivers subcommittee and development grants from Clackamas County Tourism and Cultural Affairs.

It is one of the projects being considered by the Willamette Falls Legacy Project.

To read the results of the study and to learn more about the proposal, visit willamettefallswhitewaterpark.org.

To learn more about We Love Clean Rivers, visit welovecleanrivers.org.

Visit econw.com to learn more about ECONorthwest; visit s2odesign.com to learn more about S2o Design; and visit mthoodterritory.com to learn more about Clackamas County Tourism and Cultural Affairs.

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