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Amphitheater has replaced Smokey's Playland

I seem to remember there being some kind of Disney animal park at the Jackson County Fair when my kids were growing up. There was a small train that our family rode through the area by one of the lakes. I'm planning to take my grandchildren this year, but someone told me that section is gone. Is that true?

— Hazel M., Talent

After checking around, Hazel, we think you are referring to Smokey's Playland, which was run by local firefighters, the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

While there might have been a Bambi-like creature or two prowling the area, the park was a local volunteer venture for nearly two decades. Like many elements of fairs near and far, Smokey's Playland fell victim to progress. The land inhabited by Smokey and friends now rests beneath the Lithia Motors Amphitheater, which opened in 2005.

The Rogue Valley Fire Prevention Co-op saw an opportunity to teach fire safety to children in the mid-1980s. Rounding up donations from timber companies, organizers used a portable sawmill to cut much of the lumber for Smokey's fire station in 1984, followed by the Forest Service and BLM cabins. After the 2003 fair, at what is now known simply as The Expo, workers dismantled the cabins, railroad tracks and park area that drew thousands annually.

Another feature that went away with Smokey's Playland was a paddlewheel boat that meandered about Timber Queen Pond a couple dozen times a day.

The steam-powered locomotive that wove its way through the park was retired to a different location. For a while there was talk of using the train to shuttle fairgoers from their cars to the gates, but it never materialized.

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