Willamette Falls Trust in Oregon City, Oregon, has announced gifts totaling $7 million from Connie Ballmer, co-founder of the Ballmer Group, and the Ann and Bill Swindells Charitable Trust in support of the public-private Willamette Falls Riverwalk initiative.
The commitments include $5 million from Ballmer and $2 million from the Portland-based trust — co-founded by Bill Swindells, the late chair and CEO of lumber company Willamette Industries — for phase one of a project that will provide public access for the first time in a century to the falls. The second largest waterfall by volume in North America, Willamette Falls has long been a fishing and gathering place for Native American tribes as well as the site of the first long-distance power transmission line in the United States.
Combined with $19.5 million from the Willamette Falls Legacy Project, a group of four public-sector funders, the gifts boost to $26.5 million the total raised toward the $35 million goal for the first phase of the project. Current plans include repurposing one of the former mill buildings into a three-story structure that will provide an overlook of the falls and Willamette River, the restoration of habitat and gathering spaces, and the creation of interpretive features for the site.
"These generous gifts buoy our efforts to complete the first phase of a world-class Riverwalk, demonstrating community and regional support of our plans to create a new experience at Willamette Falls that will give everyone new opportunities to explore the rich habitat, culture, and history of this significant place," said Willamette Falls Trust board chair Alice Norris.
"It's as if someone put a roof on the Grand Canyon and kept it hidden away for all these years," said Ballmer, who grew up in Oregon City and worked at the Crown Zellerbach mill on the west side of Willamette Falls as a college student. "It's time to lift the roof off Willamette Falls so that more Oregonians can experience this beautiful place. These kinds of projects don't come along very often, so it's an important moment for the region and state. I am delighted to lend support to Willamette Falls Trust and Oregon City's beautiful waterfront."
(Photo credit: Willamette Falls Legacy Project)