The signs are everywhere: Traffic seems to be thinning, stores are offering back-to-school specials, and September is mere weeks away. Summer may be on its way out, but not before one of the most iconic events of the season has its say.
It’s time for the Northwest Montana Fair, which runs from Aug. 19-23 at the Flathead County Fairgrounds in Kalispell. The fair is one of the essential summer activities in the valley, harkening back to a time when neighbors took a break from the annual harvest to gather for a rodeo and let loose.
This year, the Northwest Montana Fair boasts 114 years of tradition, but also some considerable modern upgrades now that a major capital improvement project has finished at the fairgrounds.
“The fairgrounds have been under construction for four months, from April through the end of July, and it was a major project,” fairgrounds Manager Mark Campbell said last week. “We are very pleased with the project.”
Last summer, the renovations started with a large-scale upgrade to the fairgrounds’ historic grandstands, which received new roofing, lighting, and cosmetic finishes to help the century-old facility continue serving as the hot spot for activities through fair week.
This year, from spring to the beginning of August, construction crews were hard at work improving various aspects of the fairgrounds, some that fairgoers will notice right away, such as the redoing of the main roadway running through the grounds.
The new roadway creates a more defined space to and from the grounds, Campbell said.
“It’s going to create better flow for people, pedestrian access, and visual flows,” Campbell said. “And it’s better for safety; we’re not the old potholed road anymore.”
Flathead County also identified the need for more restrooms that conform to the American Disability Act standards, and Campbell said the buildings on the west side of the roadway on the grounds have had their restrooms redone to facilitate better and easier access for all fair attendees.
Other visual improvements include a large effort to clean up the general appearance of the grounds, Campbell said, giving a better presentation to the thousands who will attend the fair.
“It feels brand new until someone drops the first funnel cake upside-down,” Campbell said.
The project also included major improvements to less-visual aspects of the grounds, but they are no less important, Campbell said. There are new sewer, water, and gas lines running underground, and much attention was paid to improving storm drainage.
Campbell said that during fiscal year 2015, Flathead County invested a total of $863,000 in the improvements.
Fair-related events were well underway last week while Campbell discussed the grounds’ upgrades, with many of the 4H and Future Farmers of America competitions and exhibits getting a fresh start in 2015.
The theme this year is ‘Kick It Up,’ and once the fair officially opens on Aug. 19, patrons will be able to do just that, Campbell said. The ever-popular carnival starts at 3 p.m., with the Kristian Bush and Kelsea Ballerini concert taking the main stage in front of the grandstands that evening.
On Aug. 20, which is seniors and kids’ day with free admission for those ages 12 and under and 65 and over, the Ram PRCA Rodeo hits the main arena, with relay races during the rodeo halftime. Before the rodeo starts at 7:30 p.m., be sure to check out the kids who take on wily sheep during Justin Mutton Bustin’ at 7 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 21 brings the fair to Kalispell’s Main Street for the annual parade, which starts at 10 a.m. and will feature floats based on this year’s theme. The rodeo continues, along with free gate and rodeo admissions for veterans with valid current or retired identification.
The rodeo continues into Saturday, with the championship relay races, and the Napa Demolition Derby takes its turn in the arena on Sunday, Aug. 23.
Improvements to the fairgrounds not only help with keeping the general infrastructure updated, but also to enhance the fair experience for visitors, Campbell said, making it the perfect way to end the summer season.
“It’s ready to kick it up so to speak,” Campbell said. “We’re ready to get going.”
For a complete schedule of Northwest Montana Fair events, visit www.nwmtfair.com.
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