Parks and recreation director offers early retirement to save city dollars

by: VERN UYETAKE -  Parks and Recreation Director Ken Worcester volunteered to downsize his position to half-time to help preserve the staff and programming in the department.Ken Worcester has two favorite places to visit in West Linn. He has had plenty of time to explore every nook and cranny of the city after working in the parks and recreation department for 33 years.

Now, he may have some extra time to visit his favorite spots. Worcester officially retired as of Dec. 27, but will continue on as the West Linn Parks and Recreation director in a half-time capacity.

Worcester, 58, joined the parks and recreation department in 1979 as a maintenance worker. Over the years, as the city grew, Worcester’s role with the city also grew. He became the director in 1994.

When Worcester first joined the department, the city had just six parks. Today, the city boasts more than 20 parks.

“It’s kind of grown with me,” Worcester said. “I progressively grew up the ladder.”

He came to work for West Linn after working with the North Clackamas School District, and despite getting offers from other agencies, Worcester has stuck with the parks in West Linn. At one point in time, he accepted a job offer with the city of Gresham, but he “called back an hour later just sick” with the idea of leaving West Linn.

“I never felt like I’ve even been done,” Worcester said, citing all the projects he wanted to complete. “The way the projects have always materialized — there’s always something new to do.”

Worcester said every time a new park was built in West Linn, it quickly became his new favorite park — citing the latest Marylhurst Heights Park as near the top of his list. He also said he really enjoyed working with Eagle Scouts.

“Just about every time we work with an Eagle Scout it’s really fun,” he said.

Worcester said the community and the city staff are what have kept him working for West Linn. Now, however, the city is nearly built out and no new parks are on the horizon, so the timing for a change felt right.

When the parks bond passed in 1998, the city created a parks master plan. Now, nearly everything in that plan, except for building an aquatic park, has been completed.

In the next biennium, the city is facing a $1.2 million shortfall, and many city programs and departments could be downsized or eliminated. In a preemptive move, Worcester offered up his position to help preserve the staff in parks and recreation department.

Through streamlining efficiencies and better time management, Worcester hopes to still do his job while working just 20 hours a week.

“I don’t want it to impact the staff negatively, but there are things I won’t be able to do,” Worcester admitted.

Since there are no plans for big new projects, the parks and recreation department will slowly shift over time to maintaining the parks and managing events and programs.

“This feels kind of right for me,” he said. “I want to stay and finish a few projects.”

Those projects include the Cedaroak Park boat ramp, completing Marylhurst Park, updating the trails master plan and finishing up Fields Bridge Park.

“Once that’s done, we’ll be in good shape,” Worcester said. “The pool would be kind of the icing on the cake, but that’s up to the community.”

Worcester said the staff in the parks department is “awesome” and that the department consistently ranks as the happiest in city surveys amongst staff. In his tenure with the parks department, Worcester said, only one person has quit to accept a different position and two others have retired.

“Everyone has been really fun to work with. They are passionate about their jobs. They are dedicated and willing to do whatever it takes,” he said.

Worcester said he looks forward to spending more time with his family and would like to teach his 5-year-old grandson how to ski this winter. He is also planning some home improvement and remodeling projects along with traveling.

On top of that, he might make more time to visit his two favorite places in West Linn: Fields Bridge Park in the winter, when a 100-foot waterfall appears coming off of Petes Mountain, and the full panoramic view of the Cascades on Palomino Loop Trail.

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