Friday, June 14, 2024

Commissioners create new department to manage Ronan fairgrounds

Reporter | May 18, 2023 12:00 AM

After a public hearing on April 27, the Lake County Commissioners passed a resolution to create a Fairgrounds Department that will impact only the Ronan property.

“The reason was to try to blend the Lake County Community Center use and the use of the fairgrounds under one umbrella,” Commissioner Gale Decker said in an email.

That’s a big issue, according to Sjaan Vincent, Lake County Fairboard chair. “It will be much more user friendly.”

Communication between Vincent and the Montana State University Lake County Extension Office, which handles bookings for the Community Center, is essential so events such as a wedding in the Community Center doesn’t coincide with a rodeo in the fairgrounds arena.

“I do’s” and Wagner’s Wedding March don’t play well with a rodeo announcer saying, “Let ‘er buck, boys” while “Your Cheatin’ Heart” blasts in the background.

Instead of two sets of use agreements and two damage deposits, there will be one form and one deposit.

“The new plan will really simplify operations,” Vincent said.

The commissioners have developed a job description, and the next step is to advertise for the position, Decker said. The commissioners will be putting together a budget for the new department before the next fiscal year.

Vincent has been doing most of the work on the fairgrounds in recent years with help from Friends of the Fairgrounds, Fair Board members, and volunteers so she can speak to what the job entails.

“It’s everything, really,” Vincent said.

It entails budgeting, strategic planning, scheduling events in the Community Center and on the grounds, meeting the public, handling paperwork and insurance for renters, explaining the rules and regulations, ensuring each event or group has what they need, finding workers for repairs and maintenance to the buildings and equipment, managing staff, mowing, watering flowers, planting, making sure the arena is ready for barrel races and rodeos, to hit just a few of the high spots.

With eight acres, much of it needing to be mowed, and six buildings to manage, a fairgrounds manager will have his or her hands full. Not only do the grounds and the Community Center need to be managed, maintained and “kept tidy,” Vincent said, but each July the Lake County Fair happens.

The fair is the highlight of the summer for most 4-H and FFA youth, giving them an opportunity to exhibit projects they’ve labored over for most of the year and see how they stack up against everyone else’s efforts.

In addition to barns and exhibit halls crowded with projects, the fair attracts parents, grandparents, relatives, spectators, judges, food vendors, and numerous horse trailers and campers. They’ll converge on the fairgrounds July 25-31 this year.

The Lake County Fair began in Ronan in 1931, according to Vincent. The concrete block buildings housing swine, sheep and goats, beef and dairy cattle were constructed in the 1950s. The county also owns the Polson Fairgrounds, but the that facility is leased to and managed by Polson Fairgrounds Inc.

Improvements at the Ronan facility over the years include a new horticulture building with a rabbit and poultry area, a rodeo arena with new bucking chutes, purchase of the adjacent White and Lundvall properties, a grass courtyard east of the community center, a buggy garden behind the livestock barns, a pergola, many new trees, bushes and plants, a new scale for animal weigh-in and a newly remodeled swine barn.

When asked what would be on her wish list for the fairgrounds, Vincent laughed and replied, “$5 million dollars would be nice; we could do a lot with that.”