Centrally located where two interstate highways meet, with 12 city parks, an outdoor aquatic center, a state-of-the-art hospital and affordable housing, Hermiston just might be the most livable city around.
Add to that average temperatures from 26 to 89 degrees and just 11 inches of rainfall, and the community offers an almost unbeatable combination.
Hermiston has something for everyone, says Ivan Anderholm, city Parks and Recreation Department director. Last weekend's city-sponsored Fourth of July celebration with kids' games, food, music and fireworks at the Umatilla County Fairgrounds was just a glimpse of how the community celebrates.
In October, the Hohe Wüste Oktoberfest brings traditional German music, food and dance to the Hermiston Conference Center, 495 S. Highway 395. There are miles of bicycle and walking trails throughout the city and at Riverfront Park, one of the newest parks in the city's system. Volunteers at Harrison Park have installed playground equipment, nearly finishing work on the newest Hermiston park.
Just in time for last year's Hermiston centennial celebration, the city refurbished McKenzie Park, adding a clock tower and fountain, a new roof on the gazebo and a new cook shack. New playground equipment was installed at the park, too.
The Parks and Recreation Department sponsors many events throughout the year, said Anderholm. Ski and snowboard trips, NFL youth flag football, adult soft ball leagues, summer day camp for kids and other activities give residents plenty to do, no matter what the weather. With more and more people becoming active during the past 10 years, Anderholm and his staff have worked hard to create activities to appeal to everyone, at every level.
"We have the ability to go outside anytime of the year," Anderholm said. "There are a lot more days you can go outside. Even in winter, it's possible to recreate. We don't have the barriers to going out and doing what we want to do."
And Hermiston is friendly, too.
Anderholm says Hermiston is the only he place he has lived where people bend over backwards to be friendly. He says everywhere he goes, people stop and say hello.
"In California, where I grew up, that doesn't happen," Anderholm said. Even in the Midwest, where Anderholm attended university, people aren't as friendly as they are in Hermiston, he added.
It isn't just the parks, said Anderholm, that makes Hermiston a great place to live.
"We're in a unique area," he said, citing being just a half hour from the Tri-Cities, Wash., and close to the Blue Mountains. "There are a variety of things within a couple of hours."
Anderholm also cited the "extremely low crime rate" as a factor in making Hermiston a livable community.
"We get the best of both worlds," Anderholm said.
Hermiston Police Chief Dan Coulombe couldn't agree more.
His department strives to create an atmosphere where criminals do not want to be. He cites the 57 active Neighborhood Watch organizations his department has fostered.
"Neighborhood Watch is instrumental in crime prevention," Coulombe said.
Signs reminding people to "lock, take and hide" their valuables have been installed in parking lots around the city.
Head Start's Neighborhood Revitalization program has helped five neighborhoods clean-up in the past 5 1/2 years.
"Meth use is at the lowest its been in 10 years," Coulombe said. "We are also seeing arrests for meth lower. Meth use looks like it is dwindling." He attributes the fall of methamphetamine use and distribution to the high cost of the drug and the inability to 'cook' methamphetamine as easily as in the past because of new rules about the sale of ephedrine, a main ingredient.
Coulombe's department is working on several collaborative efforts to help bring down crime. One project is with the Hermiston School District on a youth violence task force. An officer is assigned to the high school and another officer works with the district's middle and elementary schools. A community accountability board has been started to work with kids who get into trouble with the law. A risk assessment was done in the schools, said Coulombe. The plan is to create a regional location to do specialized training for at-risk students.
One thing that has helped the crime rate are the dedicated jail beds at the Umatilla County Jail. The police have three beds in which to put people they arrest as does the municipal judge.
"We are targeting chronic offenders to make them accountable," said Coulombe of the jail beds.
For the past few years, Hermiston residents have received a survey asking them what areas they think the police department needs to work on. The survey has been nationally recognized and is used as an example in a law enforcement textbook, Coulombe said.
"We've had the lowest citizen complaints against officers this year," he said.
The surveys have shown the need for directed patrols. Officers have specific areas they patrol each shift, ensuring crime does not happen. Another program, called Problem-Oriented Policing projects or POP, has given officers the opportunity to choose their projects based on any chronic call load that impacted the department. Supervisors assist in choosing the project. Officers implement the "SARA" method when looking at a problem - Scan the problem, Analyze, format a Response and Assessment. The goal, says Coulombe, is to limit police calls.
"It has increased efficiency," Coulombe said, "and we have had more communication with citizens. It boils down to quality of life for all."