*Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct time for the auction and the ribbon cutting.
After a fire devastated portions of the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show grounds last year, the popular rodeo site is ready for the events this week
People visiting the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show, which opened this morning for its 111th year, may be inspired to reflect on the phoenix of Greek mythology, which against all odds rose from the ashes.
Despite the fire that destroyed a major portion of its structures nearly a year ago, the EOLS grounds look sharper than ever.
“I’m excited, stunned and awed,” said Amy Largent, an Elgin 4-H adult leader, after observing how much work volunteers had done to restore the EOLS grounds Saturday morning during a cleanup day by 4-H and FFA youths.
The story of the phoenix tells of a bird that was destroyed by fire but rose from its ashes to live another life cycle.
Portions of the EOLS grounds, some built at least five decades ago, are back to begin another life cycle thanks to community members who were generous with donations of time, skills, equipment and materials.
“It was an incredible team effort,” said Cassie Miller, a member of the EOLS Board of Directors.
Darren Hansen, president of the EOLS Board, said there was never any doubt that the grounds would be restored in time for this year’s show. He was confident that people would step forward to help.
“I knew that we were going to make it no matter what,” he said.
Hansen said that beginning in March, volunteers have met each Saturday and Sunday for work parties.
Of the approximately $700,000 worth of work that has been done at the EOLS grounds since the fire, Hansen said, $330,000 came from insurance, grants and donations. The remaining $370,000 is how much Hansen estimates the materials donated and the volunteer labor received was worth. He said he cannot express how much he appreciates the community’s help.
The EOLS blaze, which broke out at about 5 p.m. July 24, 2017, did not kill or injure any people or animals, but three race horse barns and a goat barn were destroyed. The race horse barns have been replaced with new metal ones, which have stalls for a total of 78 horses and are designed to provide greater comfort.
“They have better ventilation,” Miller noted.
Rather than replacing the goat barn, the goats have been moved to the central part of the livestock show grounds where the animals have new pens. Their panels are about a foot higher than the ones they previously had. Kim Hudson, a superintendent for the 4-H goat show at the EOLS, said the taller panels mean entrants will no longer have to chase goats that have jumped out of their pens or retrieve them from other pens they have hopped into.
EOLS visitors and participants are also taking note of the new 8,000-square-foot show and sale barn, which is about twice as large as the old sale barn and has restrooms, a concession stand and an office. The old sale barn is now being used for beef show events.
Melinda Becker-Bisenius, a La Grande 4-H parent, said the larger sale barn is a big plus.
“It is special and much nicer,” she said. “We needed a new sale barn.”
One of the features she likes is the natural light provided by windows in the upper part of the building.
The added space makes it easier for livestock owners to get their animals in and out quickly during the annual EOLS 4-H and FFA Auction, which will be conducted this year at 8 a.m. June 9.
Honour Bowen, a Union County 4-H program assistant, also is a big fan of the larger sale barn.
“There will be room for more buyers,” she said.
Bowen said that the added space may mean that some people who just want to get a look at the auction may stay and buy something. Now, the people watching will be able to sit in bleachers and there will be tables for those buying to sit at. Previously almost everyone at the auction had to stand.
Bowen said she had been worried about the EOLS’s future after the fire but was heartened by how people rallied to come to its aid.
“It was a great outpouring,” she said. “Everybody was so determined.”
Mike Becker, owner of the construction firm Mike Becker General Contractor, is among those who donated a significant amount of time and materials for the restoration work and construction of the new sales barn.
“He was a driving force behind the project,” Miller said.
Becker’s company will be recognized along with about 20 other businesses and individuals for their help in restoring the EOLS grounds at a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new sale barn set for 7:45 a.m. June 9.
“What (the volunteers) did was huge,” Miller said. “Without all of their work, it would not have turned out as well as it did.”