When I was in Melbourne, on my last evening there I popped into a Korean restaurant to get some takeaway. As I waited for my order, I noticed some reading material consisting mostly of Korean newspapers provided to make the wait go faster. Amongst the newspapers though was an old National Geographic that just happened to have a story about the efforts that had gone into cleaning up the Willamette after it became the most polluted river in the Northwest. I wanted this nice little snapshot of the past, so I snuck it into my bag. Now, nearly 2 years later, I finally got around to actually reading the article and checking out the dated photos some more.
The article, titled A River Restored: Oregon's Willamette, in the June 1972 issue, details how strong laws were passed (this was during Tom McCall's reign as governor) preventing any pollutants from being poured into the river. Cities built sewage systems to handle their waste water, while at the same time providing fertilizer for local farmers. Companies along the river, such as paper mills, spent millions of dollars to make sure they weren't discharging chemicals into the water. Citizens took up the cause and reported any signs of pollution.
All of this resulted in a near-pristine river full of spawning salmon and people not afraid to go for a swim. This picture of a happy American family enjoying a day on the river was the issue's cover photo:
The caption states, "Oregonians enjoy the newly cleansed waters of the Willamette River. Today, the entire length of the Willamette to Portland provides a safe playground for water sports, including swimming. Perhaps even more important, Oregon's accomplishment instills a valuable environmental awareness in the state's young people, heirs to the river of tomorrow."
It's not an awareness we kept for very long. A few decades later and the river is a Superfund site, at least around Portland. It's a shame we let it get that bad again.
Also I'm not sure what happened with the Greenway plan, mentioned in the article, to create a nearly continuous belt of parks along the entire river. Perhaps it does exist in some of the parks and nature areas that we know today. There is this photo of downtown Portland in the article:
It is pre-Waterfront Park, so there has been at least that improvement along the Willamette, as well as the more recent Eastside Esplanade. It's unfortunate that I-5 was placed where it was though.
The photo's caption reads, "...The busy harbor, once a festering sinkhole for all the Willamette's ills, now ranks among the cleanest in the Nation." Unfortunately I think it's back to "festering sinkhole" status.
What a different skyline the city has in the photo. Downtown looks more like the eastside. In the background though is a sign of a growing city, with the Wells Fargo building under construction. I love how photos can be such time capsules.
This is also true of some of the ads in the magazine. There are no fewer than 3 ads for cameras, including this one for the Minolta SRT 101, the precursor to the SRT 201 that I have.
And to have a bit of a laugh at old technology, there's this ad for a video recorder, which sort of looks like a portable reel-to-reel with a video camera attached.
It is touted as "a miniature tv studio, a mere 20 lbs. to carry." So only slightly less heavy than carrying around a full-sized tv studio. It is noted as the exclusive portable video recorder of the 1972 Munich Olympics. There are as few other ads mentioning official Olympic partners, such as one from Lufthansa declaring Europe "the uncommon market".