A thousand feet of sewer line snaking beneath the ground around Central Point's Expo Ponds may not seem like a big step forward for universal fishing access to the Rogue Valley's most accessible water.
But the lines installed last year represent needed infrastructure for a $3.5 million, all-volunteer project that seeks to create top-notch fishing opportunities for everyone from seniors and wheelchair-bound anglers to parents with young tots visiting the Expo.
The Disabilities Recreation Project will hold its sixth annual benefit dinner and auction from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, March 19, at the Jackson County Expo.
The evening will begin at 4 p.m. with an optional tour of the Expo Ponds project now in the works, with dinner to follow.
Reserved tickets cost $35 per person, and tables of six or eight can be reserved.
For more information and reservations, call 541-601-7804 or see the project's website at www.drpinc.org.
It's the latest effort undertaken by the nonprofit Disabilities Recreation Project, whose organizers and volunteers continue to create accessible angling opportunities in the valley — one waterbody at a time.
"People don't understand that you have to put in all the sewer and water before you can do anything above-ground," says Richard Anderson. "It's not glamorous, but it's necessary for all that we'll put in above-ground."
Some of the above-ground work is scheduled to begin this year, the second in a five-year construction plan that will include fishing piers, parking lots and bathrooms at the ponds adjacent to the Jackson County Expo Park off Penninger Road.
This year's effort will kick off tomorrow with a fundraising dinner and auction at the Expo's former Pagham Pavilion, which is now the Robert and Phyllis Mace Family Watchable Wildlife Memorial Center.
Anderson says he hopes to raise $80,000 from the fundraiser, with the money going toward materials and fuel for heavy-equipment operators who donate their time on weekends.
So far, the Disabilities Recreation Project has funneled about $228,000 in cash and in-kind donations toward the Expo project, which is close enough for Medford and Central Point kids to reach via bikes along the Bear Creek Greenway.
"What I've seen is nothing but good news for access to that pond," says Dan VanDyke, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District fish biologist. "Those ponds are so accessible to the people of Medford and Central Point.
"If they get in those access piers, I think it will be pretty tremendous in improving existing access and providing universal access."
Also, the improvements could help entice pond visitors to show a little more stewardship toward their urban ponds, which have been a haven for trash-dumping in recent years, VanDyke says.
The Disabilities Recreation Project was formed in 2002 as a venue for improving fishing access for anglers in wheelchairs and others, says Anderson, who has a nephew and two friends who are disabled and who like to fish.
The group built the fishing jetty adjacent to Howard Prairie Resort at Howard Prairie Lake, using donated items and help from construction workers to turn a shoestring budget into a jetty that would have cost $300,000 had it been built under contract.
The group then built a similar but smaller access structure at Emigrant Lake near the Jackson County boat ramps.
In all, they have done seven projects in Jackson County, parlaying donations and Saturday work parties into finished projects that would cost far more if done conventionally.
The group has been focusing on the Expo since 2003, collecting the various permits and using donations from 13 different engineers to put together plans for the project.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at email@example.com.