It's crunch time for Mesa County Fair workers and ambassadors as they rush to get all the necessary preparations done for the July 17 opening of the fair.

This year's pre-fair work is under a truncated timeframe, as the fair is a week earlier than normal to avoid conflicting with the Grand Junction Air Show, which takes place on July 27.

There are a number of new events to prepare for, including Tuesday evening's Community Night — a free night for the community to watch or participate in mud volleyball and the Ag Olympics.

"On Community Night we've invited a nonprofit to come and participate and kind of showcase what they do for the community and get an opportunity to fundraise for their nonprofit," Mesa County Fair Marketing Director Mackenzie Dodge said. "So they're going to be running mud volleyball and the Ag Olympics for the Grant a Wish Program, which supports local youth in the community with scholarships for programs that they can't afford."

After Community Night the fair will kick off in earnest on Thursday with free events, including 4H/FFA events, a mountain bike trials stunt show and duck races.

"The good news is fair admission is free thanks to our fantastic sponsors again this year," Dodge said. "So with that you get to come into the fair, enjoy all the 4H/FFA animals, the barn tours, the open class, all of the grounds activities. We've got some really awesome grounds acts this year."

While the fair is free there are a number of ticketed events like the Professional Bull Riding and Demolition Derby shows. New this year will be a performance from country singer Ned LeDoux, son of legendary deceased country star Chris LeDoux, as well as InflataVille — a new inflatable attraction.

"(InflataVille has) 33 different inflatable units and these are interactive units," Dodge said. "I'm not just talking about going out and bouncing. I'm talking about a slingshot. I'm talking about a climbing wall, a 55-foot slide, a bungee run and a whole lot more."

One of the highlights of the fair, Dodge said, is the 4H/FFA livestock sale, which is Saturday at 1 p.m. It's the culmination of months of hard work put in by Mesa County youths. The young people raise the animals, then come out to the fair and sell the livestock to recoup some of their investment and put it back into next year's animals.

Each year the fair uses ambassadors, ages 15-18, to help prepare for and work the fair. Chance Miller, a first-time ambassador, took part in the livestock sale last year for sheep. This year he raised poultry.

"Last year I did market sheep," Miller said. "So that meant I had to get them up to weight and then sell them, which meant I also had to do marketing to businesses around me and try to offer the animal. It also meant I had to learn a lot about both animals because each has its own specific standard."

During last year's fair Miller said he noticed the ambassadors, which got him interested in serving as one this year. Garret Dupper has been a Mesa County Fair ambassador for the last five years.

"I enjoy it," Dupper said. "I get to come out and meet new people, meet the community. I love hearing the older people's stories about fairs past. Even new ones where this is their first fair getting to see them get excited about it and experience is for the first time."

The ambassadors help with setting up for the fair and promoting it in the weeks leading up to the opening day. During the fair they're available to answer questions and run the daily competitions, which include a peach eating contest, sack races and, new this year, a mooing and hollering contest. Stop at the information tent to find out what contests are coming up that day.

"There is a lot of work and without those ambassadors we sure couldn't do it," Dodge said.

While there are many new and exciting events this year, as well as returning favorites, Dodge said it's interactions with members of the Mesa County community that make the fair special.

"One of my favorite parts of fair is shuttling people in and out on my golf cart because you get to meet and communicate with some of the most amazing people in the Grand Valley," Dodge said. "You get to hear the most amazing stories and it's really about connecting with the community."

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