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The Expo finally gets an RV park

A new county-owned recreational vehicle park at the Expo that's been on the drawing board for 36 years is due to open July 1 and become fully operational this fall.

County Roads and Parks Director John Vial detailed the creative approach taken to bring the long-desired project to fruition during a Monday Chamber Forum at Rogue Valley Country Club.

RV camping was on the drawing board when the Expo was planned in 1980, Vial said. But for primarily economic reasons, the RV component was never developed, leaving the ponds on the property hard to access. Private proposals came and went without progress.

"What killed that part almost each and every time," Vial said, "was that the property was purchased with Land and Water Conservation funds. ... They don't have strings attached to them, they have cables attached that are this big. It is the most restrictive fund we can ever work with."

Elements such as a store, exclusive use by park patrons, or large meeting spaces were not permissible by private operators.

"Every time we turned around, we ran into that barrier of what you could do with Land and Water Conservation funds, and having it focused on outdoor recreation only," Vial said. "But it didn't make the need go away."

The county parks office regularly gets calls from RV campers wanting to know where they can stay. After one overly optimistic study in 2013, the county took another look. The county staff drew up a plan where the county could turn a profit on the project after 11 years and hired a park designer to engineer the plan. The result was a 92-space park with 50-amp electrical sites, Wi-Fi and shower facilities. A day-use picnic area and trails tied to the Bear Creek Greenway are also part of the project.

The county was able to work as the general contractor and reduce its costs by transferring employees from roads to parks during the construction phase, which helped to keep the project to $5.5 million. Construction began last October.

"Then December hit, the third-wettest winter on record, and it was an absolutely miserable project for several months," Vial said. "We needed to be done before the fair. Having this park under construction during the fair would have been a nightmare."

The county uses its larger parks with lodges or other revenue producers to pay for boat ramps and other smaller parks, he said. The new RV park will enhance operations at the Expo and bring in revenue to the Parks Department, and it will be a useful amenity for travelers visiting Britt, floating the Rogue or attending Shakespeare. The nightly rate for a standard 60-foot space is $38, and $40 for 75-foot spots.

County Administrator Danny Jordan also addressed the chamber audience Monday, noting the county had added $96 million in grants and contributions in 2015, up from $77 million in 2014, while property taxes were generally flat.

The 2016 budget is $339.4 million, with a $2 million operating surplus that has been set aside in preparation for looming PERS payments during the next three years.

"Our budget grew from last year, but it grew because we're saving more tax dollars, and government is required to report what we have set aside, not just what we spend," he said. "In our case, it's because we are spending less and saving more."

The county continues to add health and human services staff, especially mental health, where 100 positions were added. The present budget calls for 120 full-time equivalent employees, and 60 have been hired.

"We still struggle to get the types of positions filled we need," Jordan said.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Paving is nearly complete on a new 92-space recreational vehicle park set to open July 1 at the Expo. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta