DAYVILLE - Winter economic survival has been eased this year for many local residents by the construction of the new 13,000-square-foot John Day Fossil Beds Visitor Center nine miles from Dayville.
The many workers on the project have had to find temporary homes in and around Dayville. From a mobile home on a ranch near the project, to privately owned homes in town, to Housing and Urban Development homes, to the post office apartments, to trailer spaces at the Fish House Inn RV park, everything is rented.
Local businesses, like the TX Lounge, are pleasantly surprised at their revenue this year. Debbie Cowdry, from the lounge, said, "They're a good bunch of people, great for business and we love having them."
Debbie and her husband, Shane, are accommodating the temporary residents by making daily lunch and dinner specials. "Taco Tuesday" is very popular. Debbie makes homemade beans, and patrons have access to an all-you-can-eat taco bar. She recently made a pan of homemade lasagna for a group of workers that come in on a regular basis.
Karen Rodgers, owner of the South Fork Mini Market, when asked if the workers have impacted her business answered with an enthusiastic, "Oh, yes! They are a great group of people, super nice and they have made a big difference in our winter business."
"We really enjoy the friendliness of the community," said Dave Coleman of 2G Construction.
Dave Coleman is also the new boss of local resident Carol Buce. Carol, and her husband, Tom, own Lands Inn B&B, located five miles above the John Day Fossil Beds. Their business is seasonal, and Carol said, "I feel so fortunate to have an opportunity to have winter employment. Dave is so patient with me and a great boss."
Tom Buce is also working on the construction project and so is their neighbor, Mike Wiscavage. Wiscavage is employed full time as quality controls supervisor for 2G Construction.
Other local folk that are benefiting from the visitor center project are Brad Smith of Kimberly Rock; Don Moss of Dayville, who handles the sani-huts; and McDaniel Oil of John Day, which is delivering fuel.
The project is running right on schedule according to Warren Hraback of PBSJ, the construction consultants for the National Park Service. Completion date is expected to be June 2004. The work crew is expected to grow even bigger this spring and summer and then taper off as next winter arrives.
Hraback said it is a good time to inform the public that work on the highway in front of the new center, for turn lanes and public access, will begin soon. The pavement will be torn up and it will be gravel from now to mid-April.
John Fiedor of the National Park Service says the positive impact of this project has just begun. Once the center is complete, visitation to the Sheep Rock Unit of the fossil beds is anticipated to quadruple for the first few years. Currently about 20-25,000 people visit the park each year. Fiedor estimates that up to 100,000 visitors will visit the park, and thus Grant County, once the new visitor center opens
The workers on the visitor center project have been donating all their recyclable cans to the Dayville Scholarship program and have supported the local 4-H program by purchasing fruit in their latest fund-raising effort. As one local resident put it, "It's a win, win situation for us."