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Plenty of untapped economic potential in Willamette River, mostly in recreation

SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO - A Clackamas County study says that Wilsonville could do a better job of leveraging the Willamette River to spark  economic activity. According to a recent study, Wilsonville — as well as Clackamas County as a whole — is not maximizing the economic potential of the Willamette River.

Oregon's Mt. Hood Territory, a Clackamas County agency that focuses on tourism, recently released a study that shows that while Clackamas County boasts above average water bodies in comparison to the rest of Oregon, visitation is lacking and just two percent of the revenue generated across the state from water-related tourism trickled into the county in 2016.

According to the study, which included three months of site visits and a survey, Clackamas County waters attract 1.5 million visitors annually, which results in 240,000 overnight stays, and water-based revenue generates $12 million annually in Oregon and about $240,000 in Clackamas County.

"Despite above average water assets, the County is attracting below average visitation to these waters due to a combination of physical access, water-recreation management, lack of awareness, and niche product development," the study said.

The study also provided specific advice for Wilsonville, which Clackamas County tourism development specialist Samara Phelps said could do better to draw tourism to the Willamette River.

"The community has not fully embraced the river and turned their attention toward its opportunities," Phelps said. "Wilsonville has a beautiful section of the Willamette that the residents or visitors don't have much awareness of."

To bolster river activity, the County suggested Wilsonville improve access to the river at Memorial Park, develop better access to the 15-acre Willamette Meridian Landing site that is owned by Oregon State Parks and is only accessible via the river, increase promotion of river activities and develop an official paddling trail from Wilsonville to Milwaukie, among other recommendations.SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO - The Clackamas County study suggests Wilsonville develop a paddling trail from Wilsonville to Milwaukie.

Phelps said the City has been receptive to these ideas and increasing river access is already a part of Wilsonville's plans for improvements to both Memorial Park and Boones Ferry Park. Wilsonville is also planning to add river access to the the Willamette River Water Treatment Plant Park, which would accompany the seismic upgrades and construction that is intertwined with a project to build a water pipeline from Wilsonville to Hillsboro.

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We can make the dock at Wilsonville Memorial Park easier to access, locate and be able to use. With the Boones Ferry Park Master Plan, we're looking at increasing river access, including a non-motorized rivercraft dock," Wilsonville Public Affairs Director Mark Ottenad said.

"I'm excited about the discussion in the parks about areas where people without a boat can access the boat dock," Phelps said. "That really adds to the attractiveness of the community."

Phelps listed Milwaukie, Keizer and Independence City as cities that better utilize the river. She said Keizer and Independence City feature boat locks and maps that draw boaters into town and Milwaukie tweaked infrastructure to provide a better view of the river from the highway and is

developing accessible walkways from a local park to the river.

"How someone is coming into your community from the river and how they experience your community is often overlooked," Phelps said. "How do they know there's a landing where you can stop and get out of your boat? Does it look inviting and feel safe?"

Clackamas County highlighted the paddling trail as an attractive spot for boaters camping in local sites. During the 13-mile stretch from Milwaukie to Wilsonville, there are 13 camping spots along the river trail and the study posited that a designated marked trail would be attractive to campers.

"It's probably an underutilized resource that is an incredible experience for people who like to do paddling," Phelps said.

Ottenad said designating and promoting routes to

Champoeg and the Molalla

River State Park in Canby through Wilsonville could be options.

"Anecdotally I've heard someone say 'Wouldn't it be neat if you could canoe from Champoeg to Wilsonville, catch lunch in Wilsonville and ride back to Champoeg?" he said.

As for marketing, Clackamas County recommended that Wilsonville develop packages with differing prices and catered to different ability levels for excursions and activities along the river. Ottenad said the City could provide more interactive displays and handouts for park and river users to highlight attractions.

In Wilsonville, some Willamette River waterfront owners have said water-related activity along the river in Wilsonville is already excessive, particularly from motorboats. Phelps brought up the idea of developing a countywide management plan, where river-goers and homeowners would have a say in strategies moving forward.

"Part of that is educating water recreationists and encouraging appropriate behavior and respect for private property," Ottenad said.

Ottenad agreed with the assessment that Wilsonville could do better to highlight its relationship with the river.

"It just shows that there's a lot of work to be done to develop infrastructure that accesses waterways but also the infrastructure for promoting these attractions and working with the local community to take advantage of these water resources for economic benefit," Ottenad said.

However, he said, due to the current limited access to the river, water-related activities are not a central component of the City's tourism promotion strategy, which instead focuses on attractions such as World of Speed, the Family Fun Center, biking and golfing.

"Our tourism strategy focuses on primarily family-oriented activities; that includes outdoor and indoor recreation," Ottenad said. "We don't focus on the river at this point because we only have limited river access we can offer. Our focus tends to focus on those assets we already have."

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