New city park will bear Dirksen's name

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Tigard Mayor Craig Dirksen and Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle watch a monitor of city events Dirksen has been involved with since first joining the city council in 2000 at a special ceremony on Tuesday. Dirksen is the longest serving mayor in city history, but steps down this month after being elected to the Metro Council.The new Dirksen Nature Park, the city's second largest park, is located directly behind Fowler Middle School.For a lifelong advocate of parks and open space, it was the ultimate honor.

The Tigard City Council quietly approved a plan last week to name a 48-acre park after Mayor Craig Dirksen, who steps down at the end of December to take a seat at the Metro Council .

“This comes as real surprise,” said Dirksen on Tuesday, obviously taken aback when the council made the announcement. “People had joked about naming something after me, but I didn’t think this was serious. This is startling and stunning to me, and I can’t think of a better tribute.”

When Dirksen started coaching his son’s pee-wee soccer team in the 1980s, he had no idea he would end up the longest-serving mayor in the city’s history.

All he knew at the time was he wanted his then kindergarten-aged son to have more parks to play in.

Dirksen spent a dozen years in public service and the better part of a decade as Tigard’s mayor, a major feat in a community where the average mayor serves only three years.

That lasting presence has made him a recognizable figure around town. He’s frequently approached by strangers who want to talk about the city or gets odd “where-have-I-seen-him-before?” looks from folks.

“I’ll be somewhere, and I’ll catch someone looking at me, but when I turn, they’ll look away,” he said with a laugh.

While other mayors in the region say it can be difficult being constantly accosted, Dirksen said people in Tigard have treated him well over the years.

“I was at the grocery store, and a guy walked by. He didn’t even stop. He just smacked me on the shoulder and said, ‘You’re doing a good job.’ I never saw his face,” Dirksen recalled.

Force for city growth

by: JONATHAN HOUSE - Dirksen dedicating new parkland in 2012. Dirksen Nature Park near Fowler Middle School was named in his honor last week, for his years of service and advocacy for open space in Tigard.Dirksen’s friends and supporters packed the Tigard City Hall on Tuesday to say “au revoir” to the man many attribute with changing the way people see Tigard regionally.

City Councilor Nick Wilson, himself leaving office at the end of the year after losing a bid to replace Dirksen as mayor, said the city’s reputation has grown across the state because of Dirksen’s work outside the city.

“We have a lot of tangible accomplishments like streets and parks and things like that, but there are a lot of intangible accomplishments that you can’t really measure,” Wilson said. “It’s a fact: Under Craig’s tenure we have raised the profile of Tigard regionally. They know Tigard as a player, and that’s partly because Craig has been out there.”

Inside the city, too, supporters said Dirksen deserves much of the credit for how the city has grown over the last several years.

“People don’t realize the amount of time it takes to make the community grow and prosper,” said Craig Prosser, former Tigard city manager who represents Clackamas County on the TriMet board. “Craig and the council here know that and the efforts they’ve put in over time have really paid off for this city. Craig was the leader of that and the major moving force behind that.”

Under Dirksen’s tenure, the city was able to tackle a whole host of issues, Prosser said, including forming an urban renewal district downtown, building a new library and addressing traffic concerns on Pacific Highway.

“This is an entirely different community now than it was when Craig first got onto the council,” Prosser said. “He has really done a lot for this community, and he will continue to do a lot.”

Lasting legacy

by: FILE PHOTO - A jubilant Craig Dirksen smiles on election night 2010 after the passage of a $17 million bond to purchase new parks and open space.But above everything, Dirksen said, his No. 1 accomplishment over the past decade has been adding a host of new parks to the city, thanks in large part to the passage of a $17 million parks bond in 2010.

The largest of these, the newly named Dirksen Nature Park, sits in the center of town, directly behind Fowler Middle School, and is the second largest piece of park land in the city, next to Cook Park.

The council approved the plan last week during a meeting the mayor wasn’t able to attend.

“When I first came before the Tigard City Council as president of the Tigard Soccer Club, Tigard had 288 acres of parks and open space,” Dirksen said. “Not nearly enough for a city of Tigard’s size and where it’s located.”

Now, more than a decade later, that number has doubled, and Dirksen said he’s not finished yet.

Dirksen said more land purchases are expected in the near future, and the city is actively looking to build some kind of public plaza in Tigard’s downtown.

“This park inventory is, to me, my proudest accomplishment,” Dirksen said, his throat catching. “It’s my most lasting legacy to the city, and it is made even more impactful by the honor the council showed me tonight.”

Dirksen becomes the third mayor to have a park named after him.

Cook Park at the southern end of Tigard was named after former mayor John Cook, and the Jim Griffith Memorial Skate Park near City Hall was dedicated to his memory when it opened in 2007. Woodard Park is named after Woodard.

‘Into the fire’

by: FILE PHOTO - Tigard Mayor Craig Dirksen welcomes home troops from the Oregon National Guard in 2011. The troops were stationed in Afghanistan and helped run transport missions.Dirksen takes his seat at Metro in about three weeks, serving a four-year term representing Tigard and the surrounding areas.

Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden said Dirksen’s new role at Metro was welcome news for the often-neglected southern portion of the county.

“You are going over to the other side where we can maybe get something to happen for the benefit of the cities in this region,” Ogden told Dirksen on Tuesday.

The Metro Council — along with being charged with running the Oregon Zoo, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and Convention Center — is also responsible for overseeing land use and transportation planning for the Portland region.

“Thank you for what you have done, and thank you for what you’re gonna do,” Ogden said.

Dirksen announced late last year his plan to run for Metro Council, less than a year into his second full term as mayor.

Dirksen said the position would allow him to continue to represent Tigard at a regional level.

“I’m going out of the frying pan and into the fire,” Dirksen said.

A transportation advocate, Dirksen has been a strong proponent of plans to build high capacity transit in Tigard in the next several years, serving on Metro’s Joint Policy Advisory Committee on Transportation.

As the councilor for Metro District 3, Dirksen will represent Tigard, Tualatin, Sherwood, Bull Mountain, Metzger, Durham, Wilsonville and parts of Beaverton and Aloha.

Editor's note: This story incorrectly states that Dirksen is the third mayor to have a parked named for him. This is incorrect. Woodard Park, not far from the new Dirksen Nature Park on Southwest Katherine Street, is named for the city's second mayor, Ed Woodard.

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