Sternwheeler not returning to Cascade Locks

Portland Spirit Cruises & Events has ended contract negotiations with the Port of Cascade Locks (Oregon) to operate the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler after a deadline was not met for an agreement on a long-term contract that included a repower of the vessel by 2024. 

The current agreement, set to end on Saturday, Dec. 31, states that Portland Spirit will pay the Port of Cascade Locks a monthly concession fee regardless of gains or losses in revenue, provide a commission on sales when revenue exceeds a certain amount, and make cash contributions to the Cascade Locks Historical Museum and the Port of Cascade Locks’ annual fireworks show, according to a news release.

“In addition, Portland Spirit is responsible for paying for all the operational, labor and marketing expenses required to operate the Sternwheeler, Cascade Locks Grill and the Cascade Locks Visitor Center in Marine Park,” the news release states.

In 2018, the Portland Spirit sent the Port of Cascade Locks a 15-year proposal to renew operations and cover the cost of a repower and interior remodel of the vessel, estimated at $3 million. The Port of Cascade Locks offered Portland Spirit a five-year agreement and removed the exclusive use of the dock for the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler, among other concessions, according to the news release. 

Portland Spirit accepted some concessions, but countered with a 15-year agreement and a five-year extension so the cost of a repower and interior remodel of the vessel could be amortized over time. 

The Port of Cascade Locks indicated a desire to work with American Cruise Lines, a national cruise ship company based in Guilford, Connecticut, and move the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler to a new location. An agreement on who would pay for the construction of the new dock and its location was not reached. 

“We loved operating the Port’s historic vessel for the past 16 years,” said Portland Spirit general manager Dennis Corwin. “We don’t know when the Sternwheeler will operate again in the future, but all our wonderful employees in Cascade Locks will be offered employment in Portland.” 

The Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler began operations in 1983 and over time has become a major tourist destination in the Columbia River Gorge with an estimated 55,000 annual passengers, according to the news release.

“We’ve had a lot of folks from the Camas area ride the boat over the years,” Portland Spirit sales and marketing director Mandy Morgan said.