Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Karla Pomeroy

Karla's Kolumn: Time to make fairgrounds, arena, a priority


August 12, 2017

Last week I wrote about life lessons I learned at area county fairs. Well I learned something else, or rather came to a realization. I realize that the Washakie County Commissioners have some decisions to make regarding the fairgrounds.

I’ve spent the most time this summer on the fairgrounds, compared to the two previous fairs and the 2.5 years I’ve been here. This year at the demolition derby, I attempted to sit in the grandstands to photograph. I have done this in Big Horn County for a number of years. But, there’s a problem. First is the dilapidated condition of the grandstands. They were in dire need of a paint job at the demolition derby and they still are. But the biggest issue is for spectators, Washakie County’s grandstands, unlike others sits directly on the ground so unless you are on the top two rows of bleachers your view is somewhat obscured by the arena fence (whether or not you’re short like me), thus making it impossible to take photos from the grandstands.

The majority of the seats are lined up with the fence. Hot Springs and Big Horn County’s grandstands are elevated so the first row of seats are already above the fence, making it ideal for spectators.

In addition to a paint job, there needs to be more aisles in the grandstands — there is only one in the center. Some of the benches are also bowed, and at a glance that makes it appear to need to be replaced.

But it’s not just the grandstands. Some other issues I’ve observed personally, or overheard people’s discussions about the fairgrounds include:

—Unattached long orange extension cord lying in front of the grandstands. This was not just at fair, at least at the Friday horse show, but I also observed this during the demolition derby a few weeks prior, so it had been there a while. I considered it a hazard as I watched one young boy playing near it and almost getting his foot entangled in it. It was gone later in the week of fair but for at least two public events it was laying stretched out in front of the bleachers.

—Restrooms near the arena were at times locked or not working. Restrooms in the main facility had towel and soap dispensers that worked sometimes but not all the time and at least in the ladies room there are stall doors that do not lock.

—Electrical upgrades are needed. There was an issue in the planning stages with not having enough power for the Chancy Williams and the Younger Brothers Band to play in the arena. I have been told that that issue has been resolved for future events in the arena.

—The fair office telephone was either not working or not being answered during the fair. When I first arrived in Worland I called the number in an attempt to contact someone about the fair, before I knew who the fair board members and that there was not a fair manager. I left messages at the number that were never returned.

—The sound system appeared to work well at the demolition derby, tractor pull and rodeo but they stopped using it at the horse show due to issues.

Now all that being said, there are some nice things about the fairgrounds. The community conference building is a nice facility. Except for repairs needed in the restrooms, the main multi-purpose facility is a great facility that houses a lot of events throughout the year.

The stage area, where the concerts were and where the Pepsi Wyoming BBQ Championship and Bluegrass Festival is held, is a nice area, as is the concession area with the sheltered picnic tables. I heard people remark that the tables had either been painted or were new.

Improvements have been made to the poultry barn so it can be used year round.

I’m not writing this to point fingers. I’m writing this to point out that the county needs to decide what they want to do with the fairgrounds. And, no matter what they decide, they need someone in charge of the fairgrounds specifically, a manager, if you will, that would prioritize projects, budget projects, oversee projects and oversee events. This manager for the fairgrounds, would man the fair office and check phone messages, prioritize repair projects and capital improvement projects. It would be someone to make sure that event organizers clean up after events. Someone to make sure the facilities are ready for events, that the sound system is ready, that electrical cords are picked up, that garbages are emptied and soap and towel dispensers are full and working properly throughout an event.

I mention overseeing events as it was noted at a recent fair board meeting that the rodeo arena needed cleaned up before the fair as there were still auto body parts leftover from the demolition derby.

I asked fair board chairman Jeff Lapp prior to the fair what the role of the fair board was and he replied it is to organize and run the county fair. Plain and simple.

In other counties, the fair board operates the fairgrounds, usually with a full-time manager.

If indeed our fair board is, what they say it is, to organize and run just the fair, then the county needs to make some decisions.

What do they want the fairgrounds for? Do they want it just for the county fair? Do they want to encourage and entice more events? If it is the latter then they are going to have to make the fairgrounds a priority and put some money into fixing up the grandstands, restrooms, concession stands.

Yes, I know money is tight. But facilities are getting rundown and if the county doesn’t start putting money into the facilities things will get worse. I would suggest the next time the sale tax question rolls around the county consider putting money toward the fairgrounds.

I believe our fairgrounds can be improved and enhanced and be a showcase for Washakie County for a number of events, not just the county fair.

The county commissioners must decide if that is something they want.

Now, all that said, I also believe there are things the fair board can do to make the fair even better regarding facilities and preparation. Jeff Lapp said they are open to suggestions.

The fair board, and I realize it is hard as it is an all-volunteer board, needs to be more proactive in taking a look at the grounds and letting the county know what it needs in order to be prepared for the fair, and to give the county a timeline, such as having the trees trimmed prior to the horse show so that during the halter show some skittish horses are not spooked by the sound of chainsaws as they were this year.

They can also start planning earlier so they would know well in advance what requirements are needed for their entertainment and they can make sure those requirements can be made, such as the electrical issue this year.

Both the commissioners and the fair board, I believe can enlist the aid of the community.

Every year, the 4-H groups go out two weeks before fair to help clean and get the grounds ready. The middle school children go out on the last day of school to clean.

These clean-up days could be expanded where organizations who use the facilities can come and help clean or paint.

A look at the how full the grandstands were at various recent events, show that people will support events at the fairgrounds and the number of buyers who supported the youth at the livestock sale, show businesses and individuals find importance in the fair.

But, before any of that can happen, the county, the commissioners, must decide if the fairgrounds are going to be a priority, and what they would like to see happen with the fairgrounds.

There also needs to be a determination about who is responsible for what at the fairgrounds and who owns what. To their credit, the commissioners did have a tour recently with responsible parties and parties who use the facilities on a regular basis to try and iron out some of these issues. But some of those issues still remain.

I hope there is a decision that the fairgrounds is important enough for the county to find a way to improve and enhance the grounds, especially the rodeo arena and grandstands, which could be a tremendous asset to the county and the city of Worland.


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