Applegate Trail in the Homestretch

The following article was published in the Grants Pass Daily Courier on October 29, 1997 by Barbara Hahn.

Visit the Applegate Trail Interpretive Center Homepage

Sunny Valley-

"The story of the Applegate Trail and the first settlers of Sunny Valley is one of despair, determination, and discovery..."

So begins the introductory display at the Sunny Valley Applegate Trail Interpretive Center. But it's also an apt description of the journey Sunny Valley residents have taken in the past half-dozen years to develop the interpretive center, which is being built on Sunny Valley Loop just off Interstate 5, 12 miles north of Grants Pass.

"I get the feeling that this has been like what the pioneers went through - knowing something was there but not being able to obtain it," said Betty Gaustad, president of the Sunny Valley Applegate Trail Society.

But, hard work by volunteers and a lot of private donations is finally beginning to pay off.

Already, annual wagon train welcome parties are bringing the community together, a historic log building has been refurbished to serve as a community center and the interpretive center is nearing completion. And soon to start will be the renovation of another historic building which will add another, more contemporary dimension to the historical displays.

The project is a private-public partnership aimed to bring jobs to a community that is sorely in need of an economic boost, Gaustad explained.

"This is an impoverished area. You don't know just how many people here are just trying to work," she said. "There is so much talent here, and they just want to do something."

Gaustad has been deeply involved with the effort. On here own 5-acre parcel, she has constructed a 5,500 square-foot building which houses the interpretive center, as well as a theater that will feature a film that chronicles the arrival of the pioneers to the valley.

There's also the 70-year-old Town Hall that formerly was located just down the road and served as the Sunny Valley Grange until it was eventually abandoned and swallowed by blackberry bushes. Gaustad purchased the building in 1992 and moved it to its current site near the interpretive center. Now, the restored log structure serves as a community building, hosting weddings, dances, and other events.

Three weeks ago, a welcoming party for those recreating the journey of pioneers on the Applegate Trail featured a crafts fair, donkey pack competition, dancing, and a host of other events. A pioneer dinner included roasted chicken and pork, along with "log cabin beans" that were cooked up in a 1907 hog burner - a huge vat once used to scald hogs for butchering.

The interpretive center project also includes the Radio Park Store, a barn-like building built in 1922 that has housed a gas station, motel, post office, bar and grocery in its various incarnations. In more recent years, though, the old building lay abandoned and was eventually foreclosed upon by Josephine County for non-payment of taxes.

In 1995, Applegate Trail Society members agreed to lease the Radio Park Store - so named because local folks would gather there to listen to a radio - for $1 a year. The society then began looking for grants. In 1996, it hooked a big one. The US Department of Agriculture, through its Office of Rural Development, awarded a $344,000 grant to fix up the building as a museum.

"The fact we are part of the enterprise community made us eligible to apply for the grant," Gaustad said.

The federal enterprise community designation for the Sunny Valley-Wolf Creek and Illinois Valley areas of Josephine County allows for the communities to receive a preference for federal and state funds aimed at improving the economy.

The interpretive center, which Gaustad aims to open after the first of the year, will serve as a living history center expected to offer up jobs to costumed locals who will show visitors what life was like in the late 1800s.

"My goal is to have 23 jobs on this corner," Gaustad said. Additionally, the numerous cottage businesses in the area also should benefit from the increased tourism, she said.

Once the center is open, Gaustad will turn her attention to restoration of the Radio Park Museum, which will showcase artifacts from the turn of the century through World War II.

"It's been a struggle until now, but everything is opening up now," she said. "Now, we're beginning to see the beginning to the end. The major obstacles have been hurdled."

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