The Willamette River begins in the Cascade Mountains and flows 187 miles through northwestern Oregon to the Pacific ocean, draining a watershed of 11,460 square miles. It flows by or through the major cities in Oregon, including Portland, Salem, Corvallis, and Eugene. More than 2 million people live in the Willamette watershed, the fastest growing portion of the state.
In the 1800s, when it was the final destination of pioneers on the Oregon Trail, the Willamette was known as the "Garden of Eden." Later, it provided a main transportation route and was overused to the point where it was known 30 years ago as one of the nation?s most polluted waterways. Since then, a major cleanup effort has succeeded in beginning to restoring the river.
The Willamette plays a key role in Oregon's economy, which historically was heavily based on timber harvesting, but in recent years has become more diversified and service-oriented. High-tech industries are sprouting up near the river, which also irrigates some of the nation's most productive and diverse agricultural lands. Recreational and outdoor activities -- including fishing and boating -- are a key part of the local economy.
The river and its watershed are also home to a wide variety of fish and wildlife. The river is part of the migratory route of a variety of anadromous fish and the river and its tributaries are the spawning grounds of coho salmon, spring and fall run chinook, and steelhead and cutthroat trout.
Community Action Plan
The Willamette River Basin Task Force appointed by Governor John Kitzhaber has developed both short-term and long-term action plans for the river and its watershed. Designation as an American Heritage River will help complete and carry out an integrated vision for the Willamette. Priorities include protection and restoration of wetlands and floodplains, cost-effective solutions to flooding and sewage problems, improving the health of aquatic species and habitat, and minimizing the impacts of population growth and changing land use.
The American Heritage River designation includes the stretch from Portland to Springfield.
Louise Solliday, Office of Governor John Kitzhaber (503) 378-3589