Creswell’s Hobby Field continues to see more activity, and manager Shelley Humble is utilizing grants to make significant upgrades to the facility. EMMA ROUTLEY/CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

CRESWELL – To get a sense of how far Hobby Field – the City of Creswell’s general aviation airport – has come in the past few decades, it’s worth hearing a story from Shelley Humble, airport manager.

“Back in the day, we used to have a tape recorder system set up on the runway to record takeoffs and landings,” she told me recently. “The only way we could get a sense of how many planes were using the field was to record the engine noise!”

It’s safe to say that the airport has come a long way since those modest days. 

Now serving more than 100 based airplanes, Hobby Field has become a true gem of the Oregon airport community and boasts two flight schools, a skydiving school, and a four-airplane maintenance facility. 

“When I first got here more than 22 years ago, the airport was not in great shape,” Humble said. “The company that ran the field had received a lot of FAA-related complaints, the facilities were kind of run down, and the airport was suffering from a good amount of deferred maintenance.”

Humble credits many of her staff both past and present and the City’s effort to bring the field back under its control as a big part of the turnaround. The City has also been supportive of entrepreneurial efforts to fund projects and use the airport facilities in more creative ways.

Airport officials and Creswell School District leaders reaffirmed their commitment to partnering on educational and hands-on experience opportunities for students. EMMA ROUTLEY/CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

“The Creswell airport is a part of Creswell’s Economic Development Strategy,” said Michelle Amberg, Creswell’s city manager. “The airport is also a recreational area for Creswell’s aviation community. By investing in the airport, we are providing economic development as well as recreational opportunities.”

According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, Creswell’s Hobby Field supports 37 direct and indirect jobs, generates annual payroll of $1.7 million and generates $6 million in annual sales. The airport also annually generates about $2.6 million in visitor spending.

To Humble and her staff’s credit, they have been extremely industrious in applying for, and securing, federal and state grants to continue improvements for the field. 

In 2019, the airport was able to completely repave the oldest taxi lanes. This year, they received an FAA grant to repave the 34-year-old runway – a $3.3 million project completely paid for by the federal grant, at no additional cost to the City. 

Other grants and projects in the works include state funding to redo the airport lighting, purchase massive emergency operations generators, and purchase an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) and other emergency operations equipment to keep the airport open in the event of severe storms.

“Hobby Field is critical infrastructure, not only for the community but for the state as a whole,” Humble said. “The generators, for example, would mean that we could provide emergency power to the city’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on the eastern side of Interstate 5, and the ATV would allow us to plow snow or remove debris so we can continue to operate during the worst of conditions. The airport is in fact an EOC and will be in great need during a regional disaster, such as an earthquake or massive storm.”

One new project might not be critical to emergency responsiveness but is important to local youth and the future of aviation. A couple of years ago, a retired pilot sold his hangar to the city for its own use. Leadership plans to transform the hangar into an on-site STEM learning center for students once the pandemic restrictions allow. There, students from the Creswell School District can learn drone piloting, repair, and test for a drone license. The airport and school district have a long-term goal of adding aircraft maintenance and flight school training to the curriculum.

“While COVID has set us back a bit, we are going to re-launch the drone program soon and have more kids participating than ever,” Humble said. “The last time we operated the program, it was a great success, and we were even able to take the students up in a plane. It’s a terrific way to keep young people interested in the industry.”

Humble

According to Julie Ward, Communications and Community Engagement Coordinator of the Creswell School District, they are also excited about the program’s potential. “CSD is always interested in ways to expand education opportunities to provide our students with academic and technical skills and knowledge. We would certainly be willing to continue discussions and explore potential programs in the future,” she said.

Humble also notes that she’s seen a real increase in general aviation over the years. “I’m not sure what is accounting for it, but I see more and more people getting their pilot’s license and taking to the skies. Flying is continuing to gain popularity.”

She should know. As the former president of the Oregon Airport Managers Association, Humble is in frequent contact with her peers throughout the state and the Northwest. Before coming to Creswell, Humble served airports in Montana and Hawaii and has a real affinity for the people who use general aviation facilities. 

When I asked her what’s next for the airport, she listed two key projects she wants to tackle.

“Despite a lot of modern updates, we are still on septic and well systems. I really want to upgrade our water systems as soon as we can,” she told me. “We also would like to build more hangars to accommodate growth.”

If past is prologue, Humble and the City of Creswell can expect to see more growth at Hobby Field as it evolves long past the days of tape-recording takeoffs and landings.