We've Got The County Covered

New enhancements at the Blaine County Fairgrounds

There's just under six weeks until the opening of the 2023 edition of the Blaine County Fair. Debbie Ramberg, Fair Manager, shared some recent changes this year that will make for a more secure overall facility and hopefully attract some new events to the fairgrounds arena in the future. A federal grant and funds raised by the Fair Board Foundation were used to finance the upgrades.

The new fence around the fairgrounds

Fair Manager Ramberg explained, "Last year a new insurance adjuster came in and went through the fairgrounds with me. He was concerned that we didn't have a fence around the perimeter for liability reasons." The main purpose of the fence is to keep unauthorized vehicles out of the fairgrounds. Fair Board member John Skoyen said there's been some acts of vandalism and abuse of facilities at the fairgrounds over the years. John, and others I spoke with about the fence, said the Blaine County Fairgrounds was one of only a few fairgrounds in the region and state without a security fence.

The challenge for erecting a fence was the potential cost and how to pay for it. Cody Kissner, who does business as Rock Bottom, LLC, told the length of the fence needed was 2200 feet and said, "I did an estimate for a chain link fence at a cost of about $690,000." Haley Velk, the county's Emergency Manager, told us that funds had become available, post-COVID, to help with projects related to future emergencies through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). That fund was also used to make the Commercial Building at the fairgrounds more accessible for dealing with future disease outbreaks. It was determined the fencing project could be paid for with ARPA funds.

Instead of the very expensive chain link fence, Cody Kissner proposed what he described as "a steel and cable" fence. That was the proposal chosen and he and a crew were able to erect the fence in about four days. The fence now in place cost about $40,000 and was paid for with ARPA funds.

Fair Board member Skoyen said, "We want the fairgrounds to be accessible but we also want to minimize problems there." Most recently the gates have been closed but not locked. Skoyen added, "At this time folks needing to access the fairgrounds for legitimate purposes should have no problems doing so."

New arena groomer for hosting equine events

A new Black Widow Arena Ground Working Implement was purchased with a loan by the Fair Board Foundation. The Foundation is a non-profit that seeks ways to support and improve the Blaine County Fair. The Foundation raises money through various projects (like the annual Brewfest) and from donations from businesses and individuals.

The need for a better way to groom the arena at the fairgrounds has been on the minds of fair promoters for several years. Fair Board member John Skoyen said, "We've learned over the years that we have missed out on hosting some events due to our inability to meet the standards required for equine competitions. The groomer we had was a 30-year old piece of equipment that really couldn't do the job."

A local barrel racer suggested looking a the Black Widow grooming equipment. Per the manufacturer's website, "The patent pending design allows the Black Widow Groomer to level the ground without interference from the tractor bouncing over rough terrain." A common shortcoming of less sophisticated groomers is the inability to prevent 'waves" from the action of the blade bouncing with the motion of the tractor.

The Black Widow is attached to a tractor via a three point hitch. Once the implement is lowered into the dirt of an arena the two forward wheels on the device allow the implement to 'float' without interference from the up and down motion of the pulling tractor. The result is a much smoother surface without hills and valleys. And per the website, "With enough weight the machine can also rip up hard-packed ground and repack it to desired footing needs." Skoyen said there are plans to reconfigure the sand to dirt ratio in the arena to make it more attractive for future equine competitions.

Fair officials are pleased with the results from the new additions to the fairgrounds. And the improvements were achieved without using additional local tax monies.