A walkway along the banks and cliffs below Willamette Falls will offer public access to a natural wonder long hidden by an industrial site.
But what the future Willamette Falls Riverwalk will look like will be shaped by the community.
Community members got their first glimpse of the design possibilities at an open house in Oregon City on Thursday. Several hundred people had a chance to review several design options for each of six priority sites within the 23-acre property along the banks of the Willamette River.
The options, which are called design alternatives, are also open for public comment through an online survey.
Raise your voice!
Public input will drive the design of the Willamette Falls riverwalk, and you don't have to attend an event to offer your views.
Weigh in by filling out a short survey on your preferences for key sections of the riverwalk. Survey closes Feb. 28, 2017.
Brian Moore, the Willamette Falls Legacy Project manager, said this is the time that the public can have the greatest impact on the final look and feel of the riverwalk. At this stage in the process, he says, the riverwalk is still a concept and many major decisions haven’t been set, and public input will guide managers as those decisions are made.
For example, one stretch of the future riverwalk includes a structure called the pipe chase, which is twice the height of a person and roughly 20 feet wide. One design option would remove the walls and ceiling, creating a wide promenade. Another retains the roof and includs stadium seating. Yet another removes part of the structure, offering more space along cliffs for habitat restoration.
Matt McMahon, the project manager from Snøhetta, the design firm tasked with creating the riverwalk, said that the draft options are “designed to elicit feedback, not make decisions.”
Whatever its final form, the riverwalk will offer visitors a range of activities year round and provide a connection to a stretch of the river that’s been inaccessible for the better part of a century.
Willamette Falls has been a critical environmental point in the river since its formation, providing habitat for fish, birds and wildlife. From time immemorial to today, it’s been a cultural treasure not just for native peoples in the Willamette Valley but tribes and bands from as far away as Umatilla. The waterfall is the second largest by volume in the country. That hydrological power led to a succession of dams, which encouraged close-by industrial use on both sides of the river, separating the falls from wider community.
In 2011, Blue Heron paper mill, the last business to operate on the east bank, closed. Metro, Oregon City, Clackamas County and the State of Oregon partnered to form the Willamette Falls Legacy Project, which is working with the private landowner to redevelop the site. The riverwalk is the first step of the project and is intended to provide public access to Willamette Falls and spur economic redevelopment.
The four core values of the overall project guided the draft designs: cultural and historic interpretation, public access, healthy habitat and economic development. Those values sometimes conflict – healthy habitat might require restricting public access – but Moore said the expansive site allows different principles to take priority at different locations.
“There will be high-priority access, high-priority habitat and high-priority cultural areas at the site,” Moore said.
The designs were also influenced by previous public comments, which highlighted nine uses the community wants from the site: opportunities to view the falls, river access, gathering spaces, habitat restoration, dam operations, paths, re-use of existing structures, unprogrammed spaces, and honoring Native Americans and their use of the falls.
During a small-group workshop at the open house, participants at one table were more insistent about the inclusion and respect of tribal opinions than they were about particular design choices for the riverwalk. Tribal groups are an integral part of the process, Moore said.
The designs, even in their rough form, created plenty of excitement.
Unlike a pathway along an undeveloped riverbank, the site’s existing industrial structures offer challenges but many opportunities. During a presentation , Michelle Delk, a designer at Snøhetta, pointed out that existing buildings allow panoramic views, and buildings jutting from the cliff faces could bring viewers closer to the river..
The nature of the multi-agency project – from its unique historic and cultural importance to its delicate mix of rare habitat and active and decommissioned industrial infrastructure – means that managers and designers want an extra level of engagement and input from the community. Project leaders will use the community feedback to narrow the list of design options in the coming months. In late February, managers are planning to share the near-final design, which will likely include multiple options for particular sections of the riverwalk. Community members will then be asked to weigh in again.