IRRIGON - Don Baxter and his wife, Bonnie, moved to the area after his electric wheelchair kept shorting out in the wet Willamette Valley.

"You were really stuck in the rain," he said

Baxter was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986. The progressive disease initially resulted in the Baxters leaving Alaska, where he worked for more than a dozen years.

"You always return home, but it didn't work out," he said about their initial move back to the Stayton area. "We decided to move to a drier area."

Since the Baxters have relatives in the Eastern Oregon, they scouted the area for a new place to live.

Baxter found Irrigon to be idea with amenities such as the marina, a bank and post office in town.

"Everything you need to get to is 5-6 minutes in a wheelchair from here," he said from his home.

After running for city council in 2004, Baxter was appointed mayor at his first meeting.

The city charter calls for the council to elect its mayor during odd-numbered years.

"I wasn't sure what to think," Baxter said. "But wherever we've lived, I've been interested in the community."

He's been active in the skate park project due to a strong belief in providing activities for children and youths of the community.

"If you're a 16-year-old, there's not a lot to do," Baxter said. "We have to make changes for the children.

He's excited the skate park will provide opportunities for beginners and seasoned skaters alike.

He rattled off planned features of the park, which recently broke ground.

"And if Don wants to go down there and make some cookies too - he can," his wife said with a laugh.

Baxter said the skate park is part of a bigger project improving the city's livability. Additional phases include lighting, improving the downtown area, and additional city parks, including climbing wall and water spray parks.

"We'd like to have a lot of small community parks - so they're within walking distance for people," he said. "You have to have that, otherwise children play in the streets."

He is hopeful as the projects are completed more people will be attracted to the area.

"Once we get the skate park built and city hall and the library - it will show people we're progressing," Baxter said.

He'd also like to see new paved subdivisions with affordable housing.

Baxter thinks with the speedway coming to Boardman, Irrigon will respond with additional places for travelers to stay.

"I think in the future you'll see more motels in town and RV parks," he projected.

Baxter said Irrigon is a great family-oriented and retirement community as well as being within driving distance to a variety of recreational activities.

He's looking forward to the completion of the new City Hall. Since the current building isn't wheelchair accessible he does most of his city business over the phone or talking to people in town. He's just starting his second term as mayor and hasn't ever been in the current city hall.

Baxter spends a minimum for two hours a day dealing with city issues. He anticipates being able to work out of the new building, which will overlook the skate park.

He talked to officials from other cities and they all recommended locating the park in plain view.

"Without exception they said, 'Put it right out there so everyone can see it,' " Baxter said.

Baxter's excited about Irrigon's progress.

"It isn't about me - it's about moving things forward," he said. "There has to be something for the future."

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