Willamette Falls, Oregon City, Oregon
The Willamette Falls is a natural waterfall on the Willamette River between Oregon City and West Linn, Oregon, in the United States. It is the largest waterfall in the American Pacific Northwest by volume, and the seventeenth widest in the world. Horseshoe in shape, it is 1,500 feet (460 m) wide and 40 feet (12 m) high with a flow of 30,849 cu ft/s (874 m³/s), located 26 miles (42 km) upriver from the Willamette's mouth.
Until 2011 a canal and set of locks allowed vessels to pass into the main Willamette Valley. Those locks are now closed.
Native American legends taught that the falls were placed there by a great god so that their people would have fish to eat all winter. Many local tribes built villages in the area because of the abundance of salmon that could only pass the falls at certain water levels. Native Americans still harvest Pacific Lamprey at the falls each year in the early summer. Willamette Falls is a traditional fishing site for the Warm Springs Indians as well as other tribes.
The Willamette Falls Electric Company (later renamed Portland General Electric) was formed in 1888 to build a hydro-electric generation facility at the falls. Four turbine driven dynamos were built on the east end of the falls. A 14-mile (23-kilometre) long transmission line to Portland was built, becoming 1889 the United States' first long distance transmission of electrical energy. In 1895 Portland General Electric built a second generation station on the west side of the falls. The newer plant, Station B, is still in operation with a capacity of 14,000 kilowatts. The old plant is currently part of the Blue Heron Paper Company.
The falls have been home to several paper mills beginning with the Oregon City Paper Manufacturing Co. in 1866. The Willamette Pulp and Paper Co. opened on the West Linn side during 1889. The ownership of the mills has changed several times. The last two remaining mills in 2011 were owned by the West Linn Paper Company and the Blue Heron Paper Company, but the latter closed its mill in February 2011. The Blue Heron site has subsequently been auctioned off for redevelopment. The milling facilities were sold to a Canadian investment firm, NRI Global, Inc., which has begun work removing the old machinery and cleaning the grounds of contamination. An agreement for the sale of the site itself was announced in June 2013, but later fell apart. In May 2014, another developer, George Heidgerken, purchased the property. Plans for redevelopment of the site were being developed in fall 2014.
The industrialization of the area led to diminishing salmon and steelhead runs, prompting the construction of a fish ladder in 1882. A new fish ladder, built in 1971, is currently operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The estimated spring chinook salmon run for 2007 is 52,000. The industrialization has also precluded public access to the base of the waterfall for well over a century, but as of 2017 a process to redevelop the Blue Heron Paper Mill site and provide public access to the area, including a river walk, is underway.