There was plenty of excitement last Friday at the Flathead County Fairgrounds. Young 4-H members washed their horses in preparation for the weekend’s competition, workers put the finishing touches on the buildings and people streamed into the fairgrounds office with questions and to pick up tickets.
“There are 300 people on the grounds right now,” said Interim Fair Manager Ted Dykstra, Jr. on Friday afternoon. “It’s happening.”
Dykstra has been anticipating this week since the last day of the 2009 fair. But his expectations took on a new level of responsibility in February, when Dykstra became the interim manager after then-Manager Jay Scott’s contract was not renewed.
The county fair board’s decision about Scott’s contract caused significant upheaval within the fair community and Flathead County. A group of upset residents called for the resignation of every fair board member and pushed an effort to get Scott reinstated as manager.
Since the February decision, two board members have resigned and Scott filed a lawsuit against Flathead County in May.
The controversy has largely died down since then, fair board chairman Butch Woolard said, and the board has proceeded as usual for the fair.
Dykstra said he still hears rumblings of disappointment about the board’s decision, but he hopes people can separate their opinions about it from their feelings for the fair.
“The fair is meant for everyone, young and old, to enjoy,” Dykstra said. “The opinions of actions that were taken in the past don’t play into it at this point.”
“We want to put everything that’s gone on behind us and move forward,” he added.
One of the biggest changes in fair operations this year has been the introduction of online ticket sales. Woolard believes this new option has worked well for its first year, though people are still waiting in line to buy tickets at the fair office.
“It’ll get better next year,” Woolard said.
Last Friday, ticket sales for the demolition derby, concerts and rodeo were 106 percent of what they were last year, Dykstra said. He expected sales to continue to climb through the week.
Most animal entries are up from last year as well. According to last Friday’s count, there were 150 hogs registered with room for more. In 2009, there were 138. The steer count was up to 44, compared to 37 the previous year and 53 lamb entries top 2009’s 45.
Llama entries seem to be the only department that should be about the same as previous years, Dykstra said.
Dykstra said rodeo entries are high this year, which is not always the case since the fair is late in the rodeo season and most riders are a bit busted up by the end of August.
“We’re going to have more than we’ve ever had before,” Dykstra said.
Other changes, such as putting cash registers at the entry gates, were made to follow the guidelines set by an internal audit the county performed on the fairgrounds in late 2009, he said.
Dykstra said he is looking forward to getting firm numbers for gate and parking tickets, which he thinks will create a solid foundation for any decisions about possibly eliminating these fees in the future.
This year, people under 12 years old or over 60 get in for free, and those aged 13 to 59 will be charged $5, Dysktra said.
There will be some vendor differences at this year’s fair, Dykstra said, including an expanded list of food options.
Some commercial vendors initially reconsidered joining the fair after Scott’s contract was not renewed, Dysktra said. The vendors’ space was rearranged to fit under one roof, but additional outside booths were added when some of the apprehensive vendors decided later on to participate.
Sponsorships are also up this year, Dykstra reported, which is the result of support from both familiar and new sponsors, though some of last year’s sponsors were uncomfortable with the managerial change.
“We didn’t want to pressure anyone,” Dykstra said. “We found other sponsors that said ‘We’ve never had the chance or opportunity to do it.’”
While Dykstra is excited by the fair’s progress so far, he admits that he is ready to move on when the new manager takes over. Juggling fairground responsibilities with his other job as a managing broker at Lambros Real Estate has taken its toll.
“It’s been a little hectic,” Dykstra said.
A typical day for Dykstra usually starts at the real estate office from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., he said, then to the fair office until lunch. He’ll go back to the real estate office to meet with agents through lunch, then back to the fairgrounds until 7 p.m. or so, and back to the other office until 9 or 10 p.m. to work on contracts.
Dykstra did not apply for the fair manager position, which he said should be filled soon. He expects the new manager to be in for training by October.
Both Woolard and Dykstra said they have not felt any extra pressure to make the fair extraordinary this year despite the controversy, and they hope to see the community out enjoying the event.
“We’re ready,” Woolard said.
For a schedule of fair events, visit www.nwmtfair.com.