Aquatic ecology -- Research -- United States, Environmental monitoring -- Pacific Northwest
Willamette Falls has long been a focus of botanical interest, but industrial development at the site has limited public access for over a century. The closure of the Blue Heron paper mill on the south bank of the river, and proposed redevelopment of the site, has given planners an opportunity to revisit this part of the falls and identify its current flora. As part of the preconstruction planning process for public access to the falls, Metro contracted John Christy to document the historical and existing vascular flora on the site, and Philip Gaddis joined us to document the bryophyte flora.
For millennia, the falls has been a magnet for fishing, settlement, and more recent industrial development. Photographs by Carleton Watkins show that the south bank of the river at Willamette Falls had been modified for industrial uses as early as 1867. Infrastructure included dams and spillways to create a boat basin, and millraces to power a sawmill, gristmill, and woolen mill. Later, paper mills and electrical generating stations were built on both sides of the falls. These activities concentrated at the falls have impacted all native habitat except vertical cliff faces on basalt outcrops along the river. Significant portions of the shoreline at the Blue Heron site have been modified by fill. Remaining habitat in natural or semi-natural condition includes areas hydrated by tidal action of the Willamette River, areas of seasonal or perennial seepage below spillways and the old grinders, and basalt outcrops with varying exposures. The basalt outcrops are a relic of the Bretz or Missoula Floods (Allen et al. 1986), and exposures along this part of the Willamette River provide outlier habitat for both mesic and xeric species more common in the Columbia River Gorge (Detling 1958). Willamette Falls has a similar history to that of Niagara Falls in terms of industrial development, presence of a rock substrate supporting disjunct populations of rare plants, and botanical exploration that occurred primarily between 1885 and 1915 (Eckel 2013).
Christy, John A. and Gaddis, Philip, "Historical and Existing Vascular and Bryophyte Flora, Former Blue Heron Paper Mill, Willamette Falls, Oregon City, Oregon" (2015). Institute for Natural Resources Publications. 33.