CENTRAL POINT — A flip of a stocking-truck lever Tuesday sent 1,500 legal-sized trout from Cole Rivers Hatchery into the cool water of Expo Pond.
It's part of a coming-out party for the popular trout pond, which is sporting a new look after undergoing a makeover that includes a new RV park adjacent to the Expo park.
Gone are the muddy banks, heaps of garbage, burned mattresses and the occasional hypodermic needle. They've been replaced by a lush lawn, concrete pathways, landscaping, asphalt parking lot and bathroom facilities.
The piece de resistance for anglers who make regular pilgrimages to the urban area's only trout fishery came Tuesday with the stocking of 1,500 fish — the first since October of 2015, when access to the pond was closed for construction of the RV park.
Anglers who return now might not even recognize it.
"We're thrilled the way it's turned out so far," says John Vial, Jackson County's roads and parks manager and overseer of the RV park and pond work. "It's looking sharp, especially compared to what it was. Is it everything we want it to be? No, we're not there yet."
The county plans to partner with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and others to build wheelchair-access ramps, fishing platforms and a dock in the pond, as well as an asphalt pathway connecting Expo Pond to adjacent Mace Pond, which has bass and panfish but no rainbows.
"We'll gladly support that," says Dan Van Dyke, ODFW's Rogue District fish biologist.
"Expo Pond is a fairly valuable fishery, and I think people are really going to appreciate it," Van Dyke says. "It's a huge change."
But the mantra of no such thing as a free lunch also applies to The Expo.
Beginning April 1, visitors who park at the 40-space lot will be charged a $4 day-use fee or will have to display a $30 Jackson County parks pass, just like they would at popular county boat ramps along the upper Rogue River.
Since the 1970s, this former gravel pit off Peninger Road has been a freebie fishing site popular among kids and seniors alike who had to trod 100 yards from the dirt parking lot to cast worms and spinners in spring for trout and bass, and panfish after summer sun heats the water.
Looking to add another money-maker to its stable, the county parks department decided to build the $5 million, 92-space RV park at the site, and that meant a closure to the fishing pond.
Anglers were ushered over to the amphitheater pond that took the Expo Pond's complement of stocked trout, a venue that received criticism from anglers because of lack of parking and poor access to the water, Van Dyke says.
Visitors now park at the new lot at Gate 5 and walk on a concrete path to reach fishing areas.
Last week brought a soft opening for Expo Pond when hatchery technicians released 49 two-pound trout and two adult steelhead from ODFW's fish tank at the Expo's Sportsmen's & Outdoors Recreation Show that concluded Feb. 26.
The grand opening came Tuesday when Cole Rivers technician Lesa McLain fired 1,500 legal-sized rainbows into the pond.
This year, the pond will get 5,500 trout stocked through the end of May, Van Dyke says.
"It'll be nice telling people there's fish in it now," says parks employee Andy Austill, as he watches McLain work.
"It's pretty cool to see it come together," Austill says. "I think people will take care of it better, too."