While 2020 was the year of canceled plans, it hasn’t stopped many area organizations from planning ahead for 2021 after ringing in the new year.
At the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce, Director Kimberly Rill said the chamber is partnering with Good Shepherd Health Care System and Umatilla Electric Cooperative for a new program called Good Health is Good Business, which will encourage business owners to take care of their own health and the health of their employees through various wellness programs.
The chamber is also continuing its “shop local” incentive through the end of February. Area residents can drop off a receipt at the chamber offices each week showing they shopped or ate locally, and be entered into a weekly drawing for prizes.
Like many organizations, the chamber is also preparing to represent and inform its members through the Oregon Legislature’s 2021 session.
“We will be doing all kinds of things to be a bridge between labor and industry and elected officials,” she said.
This time of year the chamber is usually preparing for the annual Distinguished Citizens Awards banquet, but Rill said they are postponing the banquet this year and hope by summer it will be safe to gather in person. While the pandemic has turned some events into a virtual format, Rill said awards, such as Woman of the Year and Man of the Year are “really meaningful” for the recipients, who often get choked up as they are surprised with the award and greeted with a room full of applause.
“It’s hard to get that same feeling over Zoom,” she said.
At the city of Umatilla, City Manager Dave Stockdale ran through a long list of the city’s plans for 2021.
“The story for Umatilla’s going to be similar to what we’ve been experiencing, which is that we’re going to see continued growth,” he said.
The city is working with a few new businesses that are making plans to build in Umatilla, including Dollar General. It will extend the new sidewalks, lighting and other improvements downtown east by another 500 feet this year. The city also expects to get the remainder of the funding it needs to create a new business center downtown.
After flooding took out a pedestrian bridge behind Umatilla High School in 2018, Stockdale said the city has finally worked out all the needed approvals with FEMA to fund a new bridge, and hopes to go out to bid this month.
“Hopefully by this time next year we’ll be ribbon cutting a new bridge,” he said.
They will also use grant funding to add new, accessible trails around the bridge, including one that will go up to Powerline Road.
On the parks and recreation side, the city recently took over Big River Golf Course and will be looking at what improvements it can make to the course, as well as planning for a possible three-day music festival on the course in October, if COVID-19 conditions permit.
The city will be adding benches and other improvements to Kiwanis Park, and is almost finished rebuilding a baseball field at Nugent Park with new dugouts and other improvements.
Hermiston’s Parks and Recreation department is anticipating some improvements of its own in 2021.
“Funland will be the main attraction,” Parks and Rec Director Larry Fetter said.
Work continues on the large new playground at Butte Park, and Fetter said he hopes to have an official grand opening celebration on Memorial Day. In addition to the playground, the project also includes a new building next to it that will include restrooms and a concessions stand.
“That’s going to be really helpful, so kids don’t have to run across the park to use the restroom, and parents can grab a cup of coffee, and we’ll have some eyes on the playground,” he said.
Hermiston can also expect a second new playground in 2021, at Riverfront Park. Fetter said the playground planned for the park will be much bigger than the one destroyed by flooding in February 2019 — the second largest in Hermiston after Funland, in fact. It will include a “Forest Service lookout”-style tower that children can climb to get a long view of the Umatilla River.
The new playground will be installed on the south end of Riverfront Park away from where the park sometimes floods, he said, and the park’s parking lot will be moved to that end of the park this year as well.
On the programming side, Fetter said most of the year is “entirely speculative,” based on how well Oregon’s vaccine rollout goes and how quickly restrictions are lifted. He said right now the department is fairly restricted from its normal indoor sports programming because state COVID-19 restrictions don’t allow non-school use of school gyms. But when activities move outdoors, he said, they hope to hold several options in the spring and summer.
“I have no idea what our swim season is going to look like yet, but I’m very hopeful we will be able to pick things up in June and have as normal a season as possible,” he said.
The department debuted a Distance Learning Day Camp at the start of the year, where recreation employees supervise and help students with distance learning at the Hermiston Community Center. It runs from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on school days, and Fetter said they will be opening up additional spots soon, with registration available at hermistonrecreation.com/parksrec/page/distance-learning-day-camp.