VIDA, Oregon — In 2020, historic wildfires burned in a number of Oregon communities. Some of those communities were in the McKenzie River Valley. One of the communities impacted was the small town of Vida, located about 30 miles east of Eugene.
The community is in all stages of rebuilding. But as it continues to rebuild and recover, something exciting is on the horizon for the area.
The state-of-the-art, eight-lane certified McKenzie Community Track & Field has an address in Vida, but is considered by locals as the town of Blue River. It'll be hosting the Irish team as they prepare to run in the Oregon22 World Athletics Championships.
“For the Irish to come here, we are honored,” said Cliff Richardson, who has lived in the McKenzie River Valley all his life.
For people like Richardson, having the opportunity to showcase the area is something special. It's been a hard couple years after the Holiday Farm Fire devastated parts of the McKenzie River Valley.
“You can look 360 [degrees] around us. This was all on fire. All these hilltops, everything was on fire,” he said.
While there are still many challenges, especially around housing, recovery is underway.
“There's green grass growing on the hillsides and it's just a really good feeling to see it come back,” said Judy Casad with the McKenzie River Chamber of Commerce.
Excitement and hope are also on the rebound with news that Vida will be hosting the Irish team for the World Athletics Championships.
Michael Bergmann is the vice president of the McKenzie Community Track and is also president of the Portland Track organization. He’s the man behind the mission.
Bergmann said about two years ago, he reached out to the World Athletics Championships organizers and Travel Oregon to try to get a head start on publicizing the event. Then he began reaching out to individual teams on his own to coordinate housing.
“I've talked to Sweden, the Czech Republic,” said Bergmann, who calls himself the "Airbnb for tracks."
“I see the value of popping up track meets in rural communities that could be welcoming and really take ownership in it,” he added.
While KGW was meeting with Bergmann, he took an important video call from a man named David, who handles logistics for the Irish team, to show him the track facilities.
When asked how the Irish team is feeling about coming all the way to Oregon, David said the team is excited.
“I mean, the World Championships is a massive event. And from what athletes know, it's called TrackTown USA," he said, referring to Eugene's nickname. "McKenzie's a little down the way from TrackTown, but they're excited to get there and put some good work in for what could be a busy summer."
Bergmann said the athletes will be staying 10 minutes from the track.
“We are putting them up at the McKenzie Camp, which is a former USA basketball academy.”
He said the accommodation has a full cafeteria, commercial kitchen and weight room.
Matthew O’Neil, who manages the property, creates the menus and hires staff, said he’s also excited for the team to be staying at the property.
“We’re working with their staff and working with the menus to really create healthy choices,” said O’Neil.
Bergmann hopes that hosting the Irish, will bring jobs and help give the community a boost.
“Just a phenomenal opportunity for the entire community,” said Jamie Savidge, a board member of the McKenzie Community Track & Field who also works with a disaster relief nonprofit in the community.
Savidge said the track narrowly avoided being burned in the Holiday Farm Fire. The flames got close but the track survived, and it helped Richardson as well as dozens of others survive too.
“My wife and I, this was our anniversary here, surrounded and trapped by the fire. So us and about 35 neighbors or so were trapped here,” said Richardson.
For them, the track was a place of refuge in a scary time. Now, it’ll be a place for runners who will compete on the world stage and in the process, bring a little notoriety to the area.
“It’s [the McKenzie River Valley] been ravaged by the fire, but before the fire it was — and it still is beautiful,” said Pete Petty, president of the McKenzie Community Track & Field board of directors. “We’re out here in paradise, what we consider to be our paradise, and to show it off to the world and the team from Ireland, we're very excited."
The Irish team is expected to be in the U.S. on July 5. The championships are scheduled for July 15-24.