It has been a couple of weeks now, but I’m still feeling nostalgic for the La Plata County Fair, which is a highlight for me as a resident and a county commissioner.
This year’s theme, “A Living Legacy,” captured what the fair means to our community: A chance to carry forward our county’s agricultural heritage, celebrate the hard work and ingenuity of our young people and neighbors and perhaps eat a fried food item or two. For four days every August, La Plata County residents connect in a special way that they may not the rest of the year. It is energizing and inspiring.
The goats, pigs, cows, rabbits, chickens, ducks and sheep are always fan favorites for fair visitors, and the 4-H kids who have spent the year raising these animals are rightfully glowing with pride as their critters oink, trot, maa, hop, crow, quack and moo their way through the fair. The event marks the culmination of countless hours, energy and love invested in these animals, and it’s an opportunity to demonstrate the results of this hard work.
The fair extends beyond the livestock, though. 4-H projects span a broad spectrum. Robotics, clothing design, saddle-making, cake decoration and filmmaking are just a few of the wide-ranging projects youths presented at the fair this year.
Similarly, our community’s abundant and diverse skills were on display in open classes. There was not enough space in the exhibit hall to hang all of the quilts entered in the fair. The beautiful work that was on display tells me that we have a pretty patient and creative community – just among our quilters!
The horticulture entries were also impressive: flowers and vegetables that would make my grandma proud. Preserves, pickles and pies – all too pretty to eat.
The many locals and visitors who come out to the Fairgrounds each year underscore the community cornerstone that is the La Plata County Fair. It is a summer tradition that has spanned generations.
As a commissioner, thinking about the La Plata County Fairgrounds and how it is serving the community is part of my job. So the fair gives me a chance to see just how well-loved – and outgrown – our fairgrounds are. It also reminds me how important the fairgrounds are to the community, and to the “living legacy” that the fair promotes.
Let’s face it, though. Our fairgrounds are cramped. The parking is limited and not friendly for those driving trucks with stock trailers filled with animals. The barns are over capacity, and the arena shares space with the demolition derby – not an ideal setup. The long story short is that our county has outgrown our fairgrounds.
We are extremely fortunate to have an opportunity to plan for the next step in our “living legacy.” Marc and Jane Katz recently purchased Ewing Mesa and have announced their intention of donating nearly 200 acres to the county for a multi-event center, which will include a new fairgrounds. The county, using money from Colorado Lottery sales, has been working on a master plan for a future event center.
After much input from current fairgrounds users and others interested in a future fairgrounds, the vision is nearly complete. It is exciting for the community, but it is just the beginning of what will be a lengthy process to move the multi-event center from concept to reality.
Cost, and a means to pay for the facilities, will play an important role in any new fairgrounds. The county is not in financial position to write a check to build a new fairgrounds and we will try to leverage grant monies, potential partnerships with private business, and community contributions to make the numbers work.
As commissioners, we don’t see a new fairgrounds as just a means to make for a better fair; we view it also as a source of economic development. Every year we turn away events and competitions for roping, equestrians, working dogs and more because our current fairgrounds can’t accommodate them.
With the generous donation by the Katz family and state lottery monies, La Plata County has gotten a jumpstart on a plan and a vision for a new fairgrounds. While we are still a number of years away from celebrating the La Plata County Fair up on the mesa, we are closer than we’ve been in the past. That is a “living legacy” I look forward to shepherding along in the years to come.
Julie Westendorff is chairwoman of the La Plata County Board of County Commissioners. Reach her at 382-6219.