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One man's ripple effect touches river's life, history

Clackamas jet boat tour a revitalizing force for leader


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: NICK FOCHTMAN - Willamette Jet Boat Capt. Andy Mass leads a breathtaking and informative Discovery Cruise tour on the Clackamas and Willamette rivers.Thirty pounds of smoked chinook salmon are tied to cedar planks, leaning into the fire pit.

The last balls of dough have been flattened and dropped into a vat of hot oil for fry bread.

The fresh lavender whipped cream, berries, roasted corn, squash, beans and greens stand at the ready.

The Native salmon bake is a lavish yet simple feast fit for 44 hungry jet boat passengers, who’ve just been on a three-hour Willamette River cruise.

“Oh, that was absolutely incredible,” swooned one passenger last Saturday while stepping off the boat on the shore of the Clackamas River in Oregon City.

Other guests beamed as they headed up a gravel path to a rustic 3-acre site called the River Resource Museum, built 22 years ago by Jerry Herrmann and his merry band of volunteers and employees.

This summer, Herrmann will bolster his partnership with Willamette Jetboat Excursions that lets visitors see, smell, hear, feel and — yes, taste — what the river has to offer.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: NICK FOCHTMAN - Jerry Herrmann's River Resource Museum pays homage to the natural history, art, native culture, geology and economic development of the site. He always looks for balance. His Discovery Cruise tour takes visitors from Willamette Falls to Sauvie Island, a 60-mile round trip that passes under the city’s 13 bridges and features a revolving cast of experts — a geologist, natural historian, artist and Port of Portland officials — who take turns narrating as the boat idles at various points along the way. (Only this particular cruise went from the falls to

Sauvie. The others go from the falls to Swan Island and from the upper falls to Champoeg-Newberg.)

“My desire is that it gives people hope and an attitude that there is a future for both people and wildlife,” says Herrmann, 67, a guide and interpreter for the Portland Spirit and Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler.

“I want to see people and wildlife coexist wherever they can,” he says.

Along with the other people enjoying the river by

jetboat, kayak and stand-up paddleboard this summer, Herrmann and his crew just want folks to get out to the water and appreciate it.

“People love nature,” says Bryon Boyce, chairman of the Clackamas County River Basin Council and Oregon City’s Natural Resource Committee, who provides the natural history narration. “When they actually get a chance to learn something about it, they’re overjoyed.”

Youth opportunities

Herrmann has been revitalizing people, places and things for decades.

With help from some of his young charges, he cleared the debris and blackberries that overran a former dump site where the River Resource Museum now stands, at the base of an old decommissioned Oregon City water tower.

The site became ground zero for Herrmann’s nonprofit Earth Crusaders Program, which rescues unwanted plants — everything from apple trees to tiger lilies — to use for sprucing up streetscapes in West Linn, Oregon City, Damascas, Estacada and Portland.

The work is done by the at-risk youth, some of them recovering addicts, whom Herrmann takes in and employs.

“If they made a commitment to be sober, I will employ them,” says Herrmann, who admits to battling a brief cocaine addiction at age 48. “I’m not going to be their baby sitter.”

Putting them to work is a fallback to the WPA days, Herrmann says, “when they get out and do stuff with the government helping to support the projects you can’t do otherwise.”

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: NICK FOCHTMAN - A native salmon bake luncheon awaits guests as they dock near Clackamette Park. The work is supported by grants from the Clackamas County Tourism & Cultural Affairs office and the Clackamas County Arts Alliance. All proceeds from the Discovery Cruises also go back to the Earth Crusaders’ work.

Herrmann knows people can — and do — reinvent themselves. They just need a chance.

“I have a strong belief that we’re facing a huge problem in this nation and in the world, that people have very little opportunity for employment,” he says. “We have to figure out a way to get people involved in meaningful work, other than just placating them with temporary (federal stimulus) funds.”

Herrmann cites the new Portland Arts Tax, saying he’s all for it, as a sculptor and art lover himself. But he asks, “What are we doing to stimulate youth opportunities? I’d want a 1 percent set-aside for youth employment.”

He’s talking to local legislators about the idea.

This summer, the Oregon Youth Conservation Corps will support his training of eight to 10 youth, who’ll work on the cruises and go to local hotels and motels to learn how they operate.

Songs and stories

In the case of his own addiction, Herrmann went through drug rehabilitation and redirected his energy to his activities with New Hope Church in Happy Valley, as well as the aptly named Living Water Bible Church in Canby.

At the same time, he says he had to dial back his workaholic tendencies because his stress level was too high.

So he turned to singing to relax — in a barbershop quartet. For 13 years, off and on, he’s been part of a group that calls themselves the Oregon Trail Pitchpipers.

Out of that spun a quartet called the New History Minstrels, which for the past two years has been performing on the Discovery Cruises by teaching history through song and word.

Ranging in age from 63 to 71, the group members — Herrmann along with Steve Hurst, Bob Pearson and Ken Cox — serenade passengers on the boat rides to both entertain and inform.

“We’re opening the state fair on the 21st of August,” says Herrmann, who sings baritone. “How much more blessed can we be.”

The humor comes from the banter. One shtick tells how the Clackamas River got its name (from the “clunk, clunk, clunk” of the boats on the bedrock).Another talks about Alphonso Boone, an Oregon pioneer who was the grandson of Daniel Boone, and was the namesake for Boones Ferry.

To spread the love of barbershop quartet (and introduce it to the younger set), Herrmann and his group take their act to local schools. They will also teach songs to their summer youth corps kids.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: NICK FOCHTMAN - Discovery Tour participants eat a salmon dinner in the riverside park after a ride in the jet boat.Last Saturday afternoon, Capt. Andy Mass, owner of Willamette Jetboat Excursions, took his boat full of passengers on the first three-hour tour he’s done of the Willamette.

Usually that’s too long because people need to use the bathroom, he says. But he made pit stops along the way, and this extended tour had all the bells and whistles he’s perfected as a captain of 17 years.

He pointed out everything from the beach locals know as “Little Waikiki,” just a few miles north of Willamette Falls, to the circle-shaped petroglyphs left by Native Americans on the rocks at the falls, which marked their families’ fishing spots.

The falls — the 40-foot-high horseshoe-shaped waterfall visible from the bluffs at Oregon City — are awe-inspiring this time of year.

Part of the beauty of the urban landscape is knowing the history of the old paper mills, and the fact that it’s a major site for salmon migration.

Less than two weeks ago an Irvine, Calif., development company signed a purchase agreement for the Blue Heron Paper Mill, with the intent to develop a mixed use of office, retail and residential space.

Herrmann isn’t sure if that’s the best use of the site, but he doesn’t want the history to be forgotten.

The salmon migration should be celebrated, he says, citing Tanner Springs Park in the Pearl District as an example of a perfect mix of art, history and natural space.

Regarding the paper mill, “All the recycling techniques for the paper industry in the world happened at that site,” he says, ticking off the accomplishments of Gov. Tom McCall. “It’s a real opportunity. The question is, what do you do to celebrate the uniqueness?”

Like with everything he talks about, Herrmann takes it back full circle.

“History,” he says, “it can be revised, it can be retold, but you don’t want to forget it.”

Note: This online story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of the first name of Bryon Boyce, chairman of the Clackamas County River Basin Council. We apologize for the error.