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New plans give Josephine fairgrounds a boost

A plan to install artificial turf field is just one of the changes proposed for the once-beleaguered Josephine County Fairgrounds.

The YMCA next door wants to construct a $1 million expansion to accommodate a busting-at-the-seams after-school program, and River City BMX just rebuilt its track there after a new fairgrounds entrance road was built at Allen Creek Road.

The fairgrounds continues to operate without tax dollars — no small feat, after nearly going under a few years ago — and the operation was even strong enough to survive a revenue-killing heat wave during last summer's annual county fair.

"We're staying in the black, and it's a beautiful thing," fairgrounds manager Peggy Anderson told Fair Board members last week.

Last summer's ill-fated heat wave sapped everyone's energy, along with $40,000 to $50,000 in expected revenue.

Making up some of the shortfall is a $20,000-a-year deal with Toyota for sponsorship of a flashy new electronic reader board along the Redwood Highway. And the Dutch Bros. Coffee-sponsored deal to install artificial turf is expected to bring in $50,000 a year in lease payments, on top of that company's commitment to build the field and maybe more fields.

The plans are not all set in stone. The YMCA will have to do some fundraising for its expansion, and River City BMX will need $8,000 or more extra for electrical and other work, although its track surface is in place, much to the delight of dozens of youngsters who tried it out last week.

"It's a really nice track," 12-year-old Hunter Spliethof of Grants Pass said while trying out the new digs.

River City BMX is looking for sponsors and will hold a bike-a-thon fundraiser. For information, call Kipper McNeal at 541-261-7688.

Across the parking lot from the track is the YMCA, which took over operations of its facility after the county built the building and its indoor pool years ago. There's already been one major expansion there, with the help of donors.

YMCA Executive Director Kevin Clark asked the Fair Board last week to endorse the latest expansion plans. Clark said about 70 children currently use the after-school program and there's enough demand maybe double that number.

"This year, we just said, 'We can't take any more kids,'" Clark said.

Outside the YMCA's front door is the fairgrounds' big horse racing track, and in the middle of that track is an infield where Dutch Bros. generosity will construct that all-weather field.

Preliminary testing is underway and the field might be leveled and hydroseeded to improve its appearance during the upcoming horse racing season and maybe during the fair. Anderson said construction might be done in the fall.

Horse racing at Grants Pass Downs runs June 17 to July 9. The fair is Aug. 16-19.

Horses have already begun practicing on the race track, getting ready for the upcoming season. About 70 horses were on-site last week, with about 300 expected for the season.

"Each day, they keep coming in," Anderson said.

The new turf field comes with a down side, however: An annual fireworks show at the fairgrounds was canceled because the field is not fireproof. And the popular Tuff Trucks event held during the annual fair can no longer be held there. A bull-riding show held there during the fair will be moved to the indoor horse arena.

Changes are also taking place with the annual fair: A horse show will added, for the first time in decades, something that has Anderson, a former horse owner, tickled.

"Over 100 classes," she said. "We're talking a pretty large horse show."

Anderson is even trying to beat Mother Nature: She's working on a deal to use large evaporative coolers during the fair to cool down buildings that are now not air conditioned. Also, she expects to have air conditioners in ticket booths, to make life bearable for workers.

Temperatures were over 100 during last year's fair.

Donations and volunteers are helping to keep the fairgrounds in the black. In fact, they're vital.

Someone recently gave $5,000 anonymously, and a $1,000 grant will help redo floors in the Commercial Building. Some volunteers help for a day, while others stay for years.

"Those are the kinds of things I absolutely need to have," Anderson said. "There's a lot of people in the community who really believe in what we're doing. I can't tell you how important that is."