Willamette Falls

3795Willamette Falls, Oregon City, Oregon. CLUI photo.
Willamette Falls is the largest waterfall in the Pacific Northwest, and is heavily altered and industrialized. The community of Oregon City was established at the falls in 1842, when the falls were the limit for traffic coming up the Willamette River from the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. Locks were created around the falls thirty years later. The first power plant was built at the falls in 1889, including a dam to divert water from the top of the falls, and larger industry soon followed. Today two large paper plants dominate the banks of the river, though one is shuttered. Oregon City lost its prominence to Portland, 15 miles downstream, closer to the confluence with the Columbia. Without economic incentives to maintain them, the locks around the falls closed in 2011, once again isolating the Willamette Valley from river traffic.