Before the white settlers arrived, the Kalapuya people lived in this fertile area for centuries, supplied with endless amounts of game, berries, camas (a lily-like perennial with a sweet bulbous root), wapato tubers, and fish. All the evidence suggests that the Willamette Valley  people had achieved a remarkably stable equilibrium with their environment. The ancestors of these people were most likely the first settlers in the valley.
They moved seasonally, wintering in the area for more than 5,000 years. Although an estimated 80,000 Kalapuyas once dwelled here, their numbers decreased in the early 19th century due to exposure to diseases brought in by non–Native American explorers and traders.
The first European Americans arrived in 1812, and numbers swelled in the middle part of the century as Oregon Trail pioneers settled the area. To early white settlers, this place offered a second chance and a stage upon which to play out their most cherished economic, civic, educational, and cultural impulses.
The progressive orientation of the 1960s and 1970s arose from the Willamette River area’s history. Once the river became the transport route for valley produce to Portland  en route to gold rush–era San Francisco, prosperity and people coalesced around its shores. A century later, 20 municipalities and more than 600 industrial plants along the river had so befouled the waters that Governor Tom McCall described it as an “open sewer.”
The next decade’s Willamette Greenway legislation put $50 million and the efforts of industry toward a cleanup. The results were the first significant salmon spawning runs in 40 years and a spate of riverfront parks and recreation areas. Although this environmental legacy has not escaped untrammeled, it is still an almost entirely pleasant experience to tour the Willamette via canoe.