Fairgrounds not a showcase for some fairgoers
By LE ROY STANDISH
Before the economy went south, there was talk of moving portions of the Mesa County Fairgrounds closer to Grand Junction in a partnership with a proposed events center.
The events center investor has since dropped out of the picture, but the fairgrounds and the many people who attend its events remain. The Mesa County Commission recently asked county staff to redesign the fairgrounds to make the facility easier to reach from U.S. Highway 50 and more comfortable for guests, vendors and performers.
“I think they want us to look at those 93 acres out there and really look at what its possibilities are for the future,” said Tom Fisher, regional services director for the county. “The property has grown up over time with different uses, but those uses were not master planned on how they are all going to work together.”
The County Commission has heard the complaints and is seeking solutions.
“We have asked facilities to put the fairgrounds plan back on the table so we can revisit it and see what we might be able to afford to do in our capital plan,” said Commissioner Steve Acquafresca. “We have some dilapidated buildings out there that we are still using that are in abhorrent condition.”
This past week, the biggest event of the year at the fairgrounds, the Mesa County Fair, took place. Some people attending the fair said the grounds were fine the way they were and saw no sense in spending taxpayer money on upgrades. Others, though, said the fairgrounds are long overdue for renovation.
“This place needs major work,” said Vonnie Ferro of Palisade, whose children have been showing pigs, steers and horses at the fair for the last decade.
She had one main gripe: not enough shade.
“We need more barns. Most county fairs have indoor barns,” she said.
Dewey Johnston of Fruita said the barns and cattle stables are dilapidated. He, like others who were left to groom their animals outside, had to string up a tarp to keep temperatures down.
“The doors on the stalls, they get stuck, and some of them don’t latch,” Johnston said.
Another problem is electricity.
“We are constantly blowing breakers,” he said.
Each year, generators have to be brought in to provide the necessary power for animal handlers to operate shears and dryers. But for people staying in a recreational vehicle overnight, there is no secondary power source to draw from.
Leroy Hildebrand, who owns and operates a food concession at the fair, drove his RV from his home in Lubbock, Texas. The power supply at the fairgrounds could not keep his home-away-from-home fully juiced.
Drawing all the power it could, the air conditioning in Hildebrand’s rig could only keep the temperature down to 90, he said.
The heat has a powerful affect on animals such as pigs and sheep, which cannot sweat.
Sean Schafer of Fruita said he was having to water down his children’s pigs every 15 minutes because of the heat.
“It hasn’t changed much since I was doing it in the early ’90s,” Schafer said. “I’d love to see an indoor facility because of the animals. It is hard for the kids, too.”
The covered show facilities do have mist sprayers that provide some relief, but many leak, making animals and patrons wet and the ground muddy.
Kim Carey, who was enjoying the fair with her two small children and her husband, said the show barns are too small.
“It is crowded. It is really hard to get in there and see some of the animals,” Carey said. “For our size town, and the way it has grown, it is very small.”
Parking at the fairgrounds can be problematic as well.
The fair has a system of permit parking for vendors and exhibitors that is close to the fair event, but some said the permit-only lot was being used by unauthorized people and that the general-admission parking lot was too small.
“There doesn’t seem to be enough,” said Susan Higgs, at the fair with a child in a stroller and her husband. “At night there isn’t any.”
Acquafresca said he would like to improve the visibility of the veterans memorial at the fairgrounds and add an indoor horse arena.
Fisher said the county is aware the facility needs a good dusting. The grandstands need to be made accessible to people with disabilities, some of the barns need to be torn down to improve parking, RV hookups need upgrading, and perhaps some of the structures need to be moved to make better use of the grounds, he said.
“The county is going to use some in-house resources to look at that property and build some options that we can put in front of the commissioners over the next few months,” Fisher said.