Posted on 11 April 2012 by Keith Lacey
The changes coming to the Desert Park Equestrian Centre are coming almost as fast as the horses that train there.
To say big plans are in store for the once-popular racetrack and horse training facility, concert venue and recreational centre would be a gross understatement, says Carol Youngberg, who is the new board chair for the Desert Park Exhibition Society, which was established last October to try and renovate and rejuvenate the facility.
“This facility is too valuable an asset to this town and for the residents of Osoyoos to ignore any longer,” said Youngberg. “This site has the potential to be great once again and we have every intention of doing everything we can to maximize the potential of this wonderful facility.”
Speaking in a phone interview from Arizona, Youngberg said the newly-formed exhibition society has applied for non-profit status, which will allow it to access numerous provincial and government grants which will be needed to upgrade the facility over the coming months and years.
“Our vision is to see this as a community facility once again that everyone in this community can use and be proud of,” she said. “In order to achieve our goals, we had to remove our formal title as a corporation and seek non-profit status, which we’re in the process of completing.”
The society has also managed to have 36 members from Osoyoos contribute $1,000 apiece to provide stable funding during the transition period, she said.
On Tuesday, May 1, the Desert Park Exhibition Society will be holding a community open house event at the Sonora Centre. It will reveal its plans to renovate and upgrade the facility, announce its current budget, upgrades on applying for grants and long-term plans over the next several years to make Desert Park a fully functioning horse training and equestrian facility as well as a community centre that is active and offering programs and events throughout the entire year, she said.
“We’re expecting a really good crowd on May 1,” she said. “The new board has put a lot of work into working on plans to upgrade the facility over the past several months and we want the entire community and all of our supporters to know exactly where we stand, what our plans are for the rest of 2012, where we stand with our current budget and what kind of money we’re going to have to raise in the next couple of years to get this place back to where it needs to be.
“In order to attract people to the kind of events we want to hold here, we have to improve the facility dramatically. That’s going to take a lot of time and money. We want to let the community know exactly where we are right now.”
Without getting into too many details, Youngberg said the long-term plan is to make Desert Park into a top-notch horse training facility, which has been already been achieved in large part over the past two years, she said.
“The barns and stalls have been upgraded significantly over the past couple of years and it’s really made a difference as most of our stalls are leased right now,” she said. “Those kind of upgrades are similar to what we’ve be looking at for the entire facility.”
The current board includes Youngberg, Dr. Gordon McKenzie, Sandra Thomas, Cheryl Quintal, Brian Starkey, Tony Thompson and Robert Yews.
This is a diverse and hard-working group who believe Desert Park can return to its former glory as long as the community supports initiatives being planned to raise the funds to do the necessary upgrades, she said.
Tenative plans for the remainder of 2012 include:
• Upgrading soil conditions in the barn area and outdoor racetrack area.
• Installing new fencing for most of the facility.
• Upgrading general maintenance for the entire facility.
• Removing tumbleweed and other noxious plants spread over large sections of the facility.
Plans for 2013 include removing tumbleweed, puncture vine and other noxious weeds from the site, improving the outlying areas adjacent to the barns and dramatically improving the bleachers, said Youngberg.
The bleachers are generally in very rough shape but initial engineering reports indicate some sections are still in decent shape. This means sections are going to have to be torn down and rebuilt, which means significant dollars will have to be generated through events and/or government grants, she said.
“As soon as we get some funding stability, we’ll take on projects based on need and go from there,” she said.
The new board would like Desert Park to host two major horse racing events each year starting in 2013, she said.
“We would love to bring the races back to Osoyoos,” she said. “But we have to fix this place up so the province will be willing to approve us for race dates.”
Having one or two mid-size concerts each year is another goal.
“We’d like to get back into hosting concerts, but we’ve all agreed we won’t be looking at getting 35,000 people here like we did with the Bryan Adams concert 12 or 13 years ago,” she said. “There’s no reason we can’t bring in small and medium-sized concerts because people love to listen to music outside in a beautiful setting.”
The board is more than willing to look at other good ideas for the park and hope people won’t be shy to voice their opinions at the community meeting on May 1, she said.
When events are held, the community also has to support them, she said.
“The reality is we need to hold events to raise funds so we can pay our bills,” she said.
“This will always be a community centre, but the board does believe we need to hold these events on occasion to meet the needs of certain users and also to pay the bills.”
The meeting on May 1 at the Sonora Centre will begin at 7 p.m. and everyone is invited.