The Flathead County Fair Commission voted unanimously to move forward with the Northwest Montana Fair and Rodeo at their meeting on July 9. The fair is scheduled to take place August 19-23 at the Flathead County Fairgrounds in Kalispell.
“We know it’s going to be different,” said Fairgrounds Manager Mark Campbell. “We are going forward, and it feels better than planning to cancel.”
Campbell said that there was an overwhelming amount of positive comment and support at the meeting, including 4-H and FFA leadership and many families expressing a willingness to make any concessions necessary to allow the event to take place.
Fair officials have been working extensively with public health agencies to determine the best way to safely put on the 119th annual event. The fair will be following all guidelines set by the Flathead City County Health Department, the state of Montana and the Center for Disease Control.
“Fair staff and officials will continue to collaborate with these expert partners, watch for any new developments around COVID-19 that would impact the fair operation, and make modifications accordingly, Campbell said.
In Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, gatherings of more than 50 people are allowed as long as social distancing measures are in place. All aspects of the fair, including arena events, will be modified to allow for social distancing and the use of masks will be strongly recommended for visitors, vendors and exhibitors.
“The health and safety of the community, our participants and guests is and always will be the highest priority in producing the fair,” wrote Board Chairman Sam Nunnally in a press release.
For the two biggest spectator events, the Chris Janson concert and three nights of the PRCA Rodeo, the ticket sales will be limited to keep the grandstands at about 75 percent of capacity. Groups will be able to buy tickets in family-sized blocks and seat spacers will be set up around the grandstand.
The fair board recognizes that a decision made higher up, by the health department or the state, could change the situation, but with last night’s decision the board is going ahead full bore “until we get through the last day of the fair and the last guest goes home,” said Campbell.
Kalispell will be hosting one of the only fairs in Montana this summer.
The Western Montana Fair in Missoula canceled its entertainment, carnival and concessions this year but plans to go ahead with 4-H showings. In Cascade County, the county commissioners voted in March to cancel the Montana State Fair in Great Falls, and in Billings, the MontanaFair will go forward but without any competitive events, concerts or rodeos.
In Kalispell, the fair board will continue to meet weekly to monitor the situation and make any necessary adjustments.
“We feel right now that we have a solid plan to go forward with,” said Campbell. “There is excitement, and at the same time there is a realization that instead of slowing down, backing up and unraveling, we have a lot of work to still do to really make this happen.”