Sunny Valley Applegate Trail Interpretive Center

The following article was published in the Grants Pass Daily Courier on March 15, 1997 by Patricia Snyder

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Sunny Valley-
Applegate Trail pioneers on their way to the Willamette Valley made one of their longest pauses -- two days -- near the creek here to bury a 16-year-old girl.

Typhoid fever victim Martha Leland Crowley was laid to rest near the rushing water, later named Grave Creek.

Her fiancé, David M. Guthrie, wrote of the event in his 1846 diary: "I was a carpenter and made coffins for the members of the party who died. We had no boards left when Martha died, but knocked some boxes to pieces and made her a coffin." The pioneers corralled cattle above her grave, in the hope that the natives would not discover the body.

Thus reads an interpretive sign to be posted near where the pioneers buried Crowley's body.

The story of Crowley, the pioneers and the development of Josephine County will come to life at the Sunny Valley Applegate Trail Interpretive Center; now under construction near the covered bridge over Grave Creek. The 5,500 square-foot building is scheduled from completion this summer (1997).

Workers removing bark from pillarsWorkers are building a facade for the metal building, manually removing the bark for pillars. The design will incorporate aspects of two hotels formerly located in the valley.

The interpretive center is a 17-year dream come true for Betty Gaustad, who owns a local ranch and the Covered Bridge Country Store and Antiques, just a quick jaunt down the road from the construction. Gaustad owns the interpretive center land and is constructing the building, which she will lease to the Sunny Valley Applegate Trail Society.

Gaustad, who is also the society's president, has been collecting pieces for a museum and planning for a center for years. She hopes the center will increase historical knowledge as well as boost the area's economy.

"Tourism is about all we really do have here now that the timber is down," she said.

With the $1 million project becoming a reality, tourists will be able to see for themselves rather than just hear stories when they stop, she said.

A theater, complete with log or hay bale seating, will be used for programs illustrating the story of area natives, trappers in the 1800s, an 1837 cattle drive and the 1846 forging of the Applegate Trail - complete with examples of items left behind during the rough journey. Darrell Bell with a bar to be included in the center

"In order to get over Mount Sexton, they had to throw out a lot of stuff from their wagons," Gaustad explained.

Other highlights will include gold mining, the stagecoach, a visit from President Rutherford Hayes in 1878 and the influence of the railroad.

Antique cabins relocated from the Cave Junction area will form a mining exhibit, and circled reconstructed wagons will complete the outside display. The relocated log town hall building is also on the property and is currently being used for community gatherings.

The story of development into the 19th century will continue a long stroll down the road at a museum in the old Radio Park Store, thus named because it was home to the first radio in the area.

"People came from all over to listen," Gaustad said.

The society will lease the Radio Park store from Josephine County for $1 a year.

Plans for the interpretive center and museum excite Larry McLane, local historian and author of the book "First There Was Twogood," which provided a base of information for the displays. The exhibits will contribute to visitors' historical knowledge as well as the collective story of Oregon's development, he said. The "gem of I-5" will attract tourists, seniors and residents who have recently arrived in the area and who yearn for some history, he added.

"I think it's going to bring more of a richness of the history that we share, that wasn't known before," McLane said.

Other Sunny Valley residents' reactions to the project ranged from surprised that funding was found, to a reluctance to speculate on its effects.

Residents like Rose Burns wonder whether the benefits would be felt throughout the valley or just in the pockets of the people actually running the center.

"I just don't see where it's going to help the community that much," she said.

Skip Alexander, who works with the community response team in Sunny Valley and Wolf Creek, said he hopes income through the center would help combat are social problems.

"The only way we're going to do that is get a little more income coming in," he said.

The area will see at least 22 more jobs, some part time, said Al Koski, the rural development specialist with Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development, Inc., which helped secure a $344,000 grant from the federal Rural Development agency. The money will help remodel the Radio Park store and install a sewer system. The project also includes $49,000 in Regional Strategies funds and $36,000 in Rural Investment funds - making it a unique public and private partnership, he said.

Considering the popularity of a Baker City museum, which is 11 miles off the less-traveled Interstate 84, the community can hope to attract at least a couple hundred of the 17,000 cars that pass by Sunny Valley on I-5 each day - "which obviously makes a big impact on a community with those tourism dollars coming in," Koski said.

Both sites will charge an admission fee to make the projects self-sustaining, and locals can earn money from selling souvenirs and other services, he said.

Gaustad said she is especially proud of all the local labor that has gone into the project. Area residents are building, sewing pioneer outfits and creating items for the interpretive center. A Grants Pass taxidermist will create two oxen used in a wagon display.

Applegate Trail Center in the homestretch

The Applegate Trail Main Page ----- Men of the Southroad Expedition

Josephine County - The Golden Beginnings

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