The new Southern Oregon RV Park at The Expo just received 1,500 of the best "keep off the grass" signs possible Monday to protect its fledgling landscaping from getting stomped by Thanksgiving anglers.

State fish biologists Monday stocked 1,500 one-pound rainbow trout at one of the Expo ponds off Peninger Road in time for Friday and Saturday's new-fangled Free Fishing Weekend, when people can fish, crab or catch shellfish without licenses or tags.

But they made sure to send these 14-inch trout splashing into the pond adjacent to The Expo's amphitheater and not the normal pond anglers use adjacent to the RV park at Gate 5. The trout normally stocked at The Expo are legal-sized 8-inchers.

The ground around the normal pond on the north side of The Expo recently was landscaped to round out the $5.5 million RV park construction and an adjacent day-use area.

"For the short term, we want to get people off the landscaping until it's established," says John Vial, the county roads and parks director. "That grass is only about an inch tall. It's just not a good time for people to be on it, but by spring it should be in good shape."

The Oregon Legislature last spring expanded the state's Free Fishing Weekend beyond June as a way of getting more anglers outside, so Black Friday and the ensuing Small-Business Saturday were considered great choices.

The Legislature added Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 to the Free Fishing package, as well.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists wanted to jump-start the new program with some stocking of higher-quality hatchery trout at The Expo, as well as at Grants Pass' Reinhart Pond. At the same time, Cole Rivers Hatchery workers were looking to divest themselves of some excess trout that have been in the PR business there over the past year.

"These are our show-fish in the circular ponds for tourists to feed from our pay feeders," hatchery Manager David Pease says.

About 2,000 of these 14-inch trout that have done their public-relations duty were available, and ODFW chose the two locations for Monday's release, Pease says.

But it came just as the Jackson County Parks Department was wrapping up its RV park and day-use development, which includes about $85,000 of landscaping around the north pond.

Instead, hatchery technician Bryan DeBerry and his crew stocked the amphitheater pond Monday afternoon, with DeBerry shooting trout out of a pipe much like the way landscapers meted out bark mulch near the north pond earlier this month.

The amphitheater pond has parking and walk-in access at Gate 1 1/2.

Vial says a come-back-to-the-grass fish stocking at the north pond is scheduled to resume in the spring.

"The long-term plan is to have fishing at what we'd call the RV Park ponds," Vial says. "The intent all along is to develop those ponds for day-use recreation."

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.