Cottage Grove Carousel passes inspection milestone

ILC Consultant/Technician Darren Simms from International Leisure Consulting inspects the Cottage Grove Carousel on April 16. Simms’ stamp of approval verified the carousel’s safety and brings it one step closer to opening. [Photo by Ken Schwieger]

The Cottage Grove Carousel passed its inspection on April 16, marking another milestone in the decades-long effort bring the attraction to Cottage Grove.

“It gives us the satisfaction of knowing that it’s a safe ride,” said Friends of the Cottage Grove Carousel President Alice Nowicki.

Though the attraction is deemed safe, it may be some time before the public enjoys its use as funding, land and COVID-19 challenges still must be hurdled.

Even following its opening, an agreement with the original owners, the Cash family, stipulates that the carousel must be in operation for two years before ownership changes hands to the nonprofit.

The carousel has been housed in the Cottage Grove Industrial Park in the King Estate warehouse since October 2018 when Ed King, CEO of King Estate Winery, offered a portion of his space as a workshop.

Following years of construction and electrical work, the carousel’s latest certification from International Leisure Consulting, Inc. has validated years’ worth of hard work invested in making sure the carousel is safe and ready for the public.

And just what does a carousel inspector inspect?

“Everything,” said Nowicki.

The inspector had previously supplied the group with a checklist that would meet his inspection standards and the project reportedly passed with flying colors.

The carousel nonprofit’s next move is to take the inspector’s certification to an insurance company and get a quote on what it will cost to insure the contraption for ridership.

Incremental moves have been the theme throughout the carousel’s development, but COVID-19 restrictions severely hampered progress over the past year.

“It was challenging for us,” Nowicki recalled.

Because of social distancing requirements, many of the volunteers had to take their work – like painting horses – home with them.

Furthermore, funding resources have been tight.

“We’ve had no fundraising opportunities,” Nowicki explained. “And, of course, nobody coming in.”

Even so, almost all of the ride’s animals have been restored and currently only four are unfinished.

More scenic panels have also been applied to the rotating center’s bottom half and the chariot seats have been padded for a more comfortable ride.

As Lane County’s risk level began to drop this spring, volunteers started showing up again to work.

Even though the core members have now been fully vaccinated, Nowicki and Project Engineer Russ McGuire said they have tried to keep their distance to six feet and work within the King Estate guidelines.

However, with the announcement that Lane County will return to a “high” risk this Friday (April 23), the volunteers will likely once again be very limited in what can be done in the workshop.

“So we lose a whole lot of momentum there,” said McGuire.

The changing of risk levels also means that the nonprofit has a harder time than ever in answering perhaps their most frequently asked question: “When will the carousel be ready?”

As in even pre-COVID times, the question is hard to answer.

“Until the level settles to one spot, we can’t really plan a whole lot,” said Nowicki.

Still, the carousel itself looks deceptively ready for launch and, despite its certification, much more behind-the-scenes work is left to be done.

During such times, though, volunteers aren’t as available as they used to be.

“One of our goals is to get in new members so we can train them for some of the more technical knowledge that they need to know,” said Nowicki. “Because we hate to say this, but we are getting old and we need replacements.”

McGuire listed off a number of talents they hope to bring on board.

“We need some financial people, we need grant writing people, we’re looking for feasibility studies,” he said. “Our next phases of the project are beyond the reconstruction of a rig or reconditioning of the machine. They go more into how we acquire the land, how we acquire the building, the grants, financial stuff. So people who deal with that kind of thing,” he said.

In the meantime, the project is surviving off of grants, sponsorship payments and pure generosity from the community.

From June 11 – 13, the group will have its annual rummage sale at the Western Oregon Exposition by the Speedway.

Nowicki said this event was a near certainty because the venue is big and open enough.

“There’s enough space and we can regulate people coming in and out,” she said.

No other fundraisers are planned, however, due to health restrictions.

“We can’t have dinners right now. We can’t get together,” opined Nowicki. “So we’re trying to be creative.”

Merchandise is being sold at The Bookmine, at the carousel workshop itself and, the board members hope, at pop-up tents should any public events present the opportunity.

For now, the group is eyeing land across from Walmart next to Arby’s and is in the process of completing a feasibility study.

How long it will take to complete these final steps is anyone’s guess.

“We want it to be done now, but it’s a slow process to go through all the hoops that are required,” Nowicki explained.

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