Matt Driscoll

‘Dune’ author Frank Herbert may finally get his park – and you can help make it happen

This aerial photograph shows the location of a new park being developed by Metro Parks Tacoma. News Tribune columnist Matt Driscoll thinks the park should be named for “Dune” author Frank Herbert, who grew up in Tacoma.
This aerial photograph shows the location of a new park being developed by Metro Parks Tacoma. News Tribune columnist Matt Driscoll thinks the park should be named for “Dune” author Frank Herbert, who grew up in Tacoma. Metro Parks Tacoma

Metro Parks Tacoma Commissioner Erik Hanberg was standing in an appropriate spot when I reached him by phone Monday afternoon.

“I’m literally looking at Frank Herbert P …,” Hanberg said before abruptly stopping himself.

“The peninsula, I mean.”

Hanberg and I had broached this subject in the past, but this time felt different — more urgent.

That’s because for those who dream of naming the reclaimed Asarco smelter slag heap in honor of Herbert, the author of the sci-fi classic “Dune,” the time for action — and a decision — is finally here.

So let’s make it happen, Tacoma.

The 11 acres on the edge of Commencement Bay that’s being developed by Metro Parks into a waterfront gem needs a real name. It’s part of the larger Destination Point Defiance project and has to this point been generically referred to as the “park on the peninsula.” That won’t do.

So a notion that first gained steam back in 2013 — naming the piece of land after Herbert — is sounding better than ever. In fact, when it comes to public input received, Metro Parks’ officials say it’s leading the pack.

Clearly, the idea still has legs.

That’s why it’s time to finally make it a reality.

The name just works — really well.

Not only was Herbert born in Tacoma back in 1920, he lived all over the city during his life.

He attended Stewart Middle School and Lincoln High School. As a boy, he once swam across the Tacoma Narrows. As an adult, he wrote for the Tacoma Ledger and the Tacoma Times. He was married here.

Most of all, what Herbert witnessed during his Tacoma upbringing — a city ravaged by the environmental damages, largely at the hand of the Asarco smelter — influenced his life’s literary work, including the environmentalist themes of “Dune” and the books that followed.

Now, a heap created by Asarco when the smelter began dumping excess slag into the water in 1917 is finally being salvaged and turned into a public park.

It’s a happy ending story, waiting to be told.

With an obvious name, waiting to be had.

"The thing that polluted Frank Herbert's hometown so badly, and inspired him to write the environmentalism into ‘Dune,’ also formed that land that’s going to become a park,” Hanberg said. “That this thing that inspired ‘Dune’ could now come back to be named in his honor is ... just a wonderful story."

Hanberg is right. And it’s the reason he, and others, have been stumping for the idea for years.

Hanberg first started pushing the idea in 2013. He had help from former Tacoma Landmarks Commissioner Daniel Rahe, who has since moved out of state, and founder and co-managing editor Katy Evans.

Shortly thereafter, some News Tribune columnist named Callaghan picked up the torch, garnering national headlines.

At the time, Metro Parks officials said it was too early to choose a name. Too many details remained to be worked out. Too many questions remained unanswered.

Momentum seemingly stalled.

Which is why it was so exciting last week when the park authority officially opened a process to gather public input about what the park should be named.

It was a signal: The time is nigh.

According to Metro Parks spokesman Michael Thompson, 173 submissions were received over the weekend — and some variation of a name honoring Herbert was “the most common.” (There was at least one vote each for Parky McParkface and Breaky McWaterface.)

Suggestions will be taken through Aug. 4. It’s worth noting that the name will not be decided by a vote of the people alone, and there are few caveats.

Metro Parks staff, and eventually the executive cabinet, will comb through the findings and make a recommendation to the Metro Parks board, which is expected to vote on a final name this fall. Other ideas surely will be explored, like naming the space after Marco Budinich, an early Croatian settler.

And since the site will be part of the larger Point Defiance Park, the name must include “at Point Defiance Park.” Suggestions must also meet certain criteria, including geographical and historical relevance.

Naming the space after Herbert seems to check all the boxes.

“In general, I liked the idea because it allowed us to obliquely memorialize the destructive origins of the park, given Herbert's environmental and activist themes,” Rahe told me this week.

“I'm glad it's an idea that's been kept alive,” Rahe said. “That land is such a significant part of the city's history, and as the access to the area increases — as the public uses it, and sees it, more often — it's a great opportunity to perpetuate a lesson. And Frank Herbert really helps to highlight that.”

Herbert’s family agrees.

“To my knowledge there are no parks anywhere named after Frank Herbert — and this is peculiar not only because of his great fame, but because he was an avid environmentalist,” Brian Herbert, Frank’s son, said via email.

“It seems quite appropriate to have that particular park named after him — on the site of a former industrial facility.”

Yes, it certainly does.

To suggest a name, go online to and fill out the submission form. Or look for a paper nomination form at locations throughout Tacoma:

▪ Metro Parks Tacoma headquarters, 4702 S. 19th St.

▪ Center at Norpoint, 4818 Nassau Ave. N.E.

▪ People’s Center, 1602 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Way

▪ STAR Center, 3873 S. 66th St.

▪ Portland Avenue Community Center, 3513 Portland Ave.

▪ Point Defiance Visitors Center, 5400 N. Pearl St.