First Phase of Riverwalk Pushed Back to Accommodate Tribes’ Plans for Blue Heron Mill Site

The path to restoring public access to Willamette Falls, the largest waterfall in the country not named Niagara, could take a new direction according to a recent update from the Willamette Falls Legacy Project.

This is a result of collaboration with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, the new owners of the former Blue Heron paper mill, the property that lies at the heart of the Legacy Project and Riverwalk.

The 23-acre industrial property has been inactive since the Blue Heron mill was shuttered in 2011. The site is also located within the ancestral homelands of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and holds significant historical and cultural importance.

Design development and engineering was already underway for the first phase of a planned riverwalk connecting historic downtown Oregon City and Willamette Falls when the Tribes announced their purchase, which has changed the project’s landscape — literally and figuratively.

According to the Legacy Project release, the Tribes have pitched the idea of routing visitors along the river to a prominent viewpoint of the Falls, instead of the original design, which would have provided access through the middle of the former mill site.

Altering the route will fit in better with the Tribes’ plans for cleanup of the long-abandoned mill site, but it has also pushed back the groundbreaking for the riverwalk, which had initially been set for this year.

“The Willamette Falls Legacy Project has worked hard to balance the voices and vision from our communities with the needs of our partners and the intricacies of the project site,” said Metro Councilor Christine Lewis. “Our strong partnerships and ongoing work will result in a riverwalk we’ll all be proud of.”

The Willamette Falls Legacy Project shared two significant project updates last year: one highlighting projected riverwalk costs and 2 the news that the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde purchased the former mill site and home of the future Willamette Falls riverwalk.

Cost-estimating began last spring for the design, engineering and construction of the first phase of the riverwalk. It quickly became clear that the funding available to build the first phase wouldn’t cover as much ground as projected.

The cost to design and build this section of the riverwalk is still under evaluation, and the Tribes along with the Legacy Project partners are still exploring funding opportunities. The Tribes have applied for $975,000 Nine Hundred Seventy Five Thousand in grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other partner agencies to assist in further assessments and cleanup.

The Legacy Project has already set aside $12.5 million for construction from the original budget that includes contributions from Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro, the State, the former property owner and Willamette Falls Trust – a nonprofit working to support the vision at Willamette Falls.

Late last year, voters across greater Portland approved a $475 Four Hundred Seventy Five million dollar bond measure to protect clean water, restore fish and wildlife habitat and provide opportunities for people to enjoy nature close to home, with $20 million to be directed to the Willamette Falls riverwalk over time.

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