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Fairgrounds at full gallop

By Bob Silbernagel

This appeared in the print edition of The Daily Sentinel Sunday, July 4

Later this month, the equine facilities at the Mesa County Fairgrounds will be buzzing with activities. First there is the annual Frontier Belles horse show, July 10 and 11, in conjunction with the Grand Junction Horse Show Association. That will be followed the next weekend by the Mesa County 4-H Horse Show. And the week after that, there is the remainder of the country fair, during which some of the livestock exhibitors use stalls in the horse barns.

A year from now, when the same shows occur, exhibitors are likely to find very different, modernized and expanded horse facilities.

As part of the $17 million in capital projects approved by the Mesa County commissioners earlier this year, the county will spend $1 million to improve the equine area on the east end of the fairgrounds. A new barn and expanded covered arena are the main features of the planned improvements.

In a related effort, the county also is developing a new master plan to guide redevelopment of the entire fairgrounds complex on Orchard Mesa.

With that in mind, the county has held a series of meetings with residents of the area near the fairgrounds, business owners, Realtors, tourism officials and more, to help determine what the fairground should look like and accommodate in the future.

But that work will require other funding. The money for renovating the equine facilities already has been identified and the project is moving forward.

Six firms have submitted proposals for designing the renovation of the horse area, said Marsha Kosteva, the fairgrounds manager, and the county is in the process of evaluating them. The commissioners are expected to accept one of those proposals this month, with the intention of having a construction plan in place by late this year.

"We hope to be under construction as soon as this show season is over" late in the autumn, said Tom Fisher, regional services director for the county. "Our ambitious goal is to be open for shows next March."

Whether that deadline is met, users of the fairgrounds equine area will see significant changes once the work is completed. Most dramatic will be a new barn at the far east side of the fairgrounds.

It is anticipated that a single large barn will include 70 to 90 horse stalls, although the actual number won't be determined until designs are finalized. The new barn will replace six old steel barns estimated to have been built in the 1970s, which are in rough shape.

Those buildings are immediately north of the covered arena, where most horse events are held. When those old barns are demolished, the area they now occupy will be turned into a parking lot for truck and horse trailers.

The covered arena will be expanded to the east — with 25 feet of additional show area and 15 feet of shaded waiting area for competitors and their horses.

A permanent awning will be added to cover the bleachers on the north side of the arena. A new show headquarters building and a new judges' stand are to be constructed.

Discussions at one point called for enclosing the entire arena, instead of leaving it open on the sides, but that probably won't be accomplished because of limited funding available.

Other planned improvements include two new lunging round pens, an expanded warm-up arena, and a new small arena designated for trail classes.

"We've known from several studies that there's been a lot of deferred maintenance of the horse facilities," Fisher said. "The $1 million being spent on the equestrian facilities the commissioners hope will be catalyst for boosting the entire fairgrounds."

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