Northwest Montana Fair and Rodeo Kicks Off With Restrictions

Officials ask attendees to be “fair champions,” prioritize safety

By Micah Drew
The carnival by night at the Northwest Montana Fair in Kalispell on August 15, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The tagline for this year’s Northwest Montana Fair and Rodeo, which runs Aug. 19-23, is in line with Montana’s statewide directive: “No shoes, no shirt, no mask, no service.”

Its part of the fair’s broader theme to “be a fair champion.”

“We’re going forward with the best belief that all the people attending this year’s fair have a responsibility in keeping it safe,” Mark Campbell, fairgrounds manager, told the Beacon.  “We ask that all who come become a fair champion by abiding by these necessary modifications for the enjoyment and protection of all who attend, and our entire Flathead community.”

Fair officials have spent weeks preparing to safely put on a large event in the middle of a pandemic. In addition to the masking requirements, exhibition buildings have been reconfigured to allow for staggered entrances and one-way traffic, and spray-painted horseshoes cover the walkways indicating the six feet of social distancing that attendees are asked to keep from other parties.

There are also more than 60 hand-sanitizing stations set up around the fairgrounds, which organizers recommend using frequently. Fair officials say it will not be possible to walk six feet without seeing a sanitizing station or a “fair champion” public safety sign.

The biggest crowd-drawing events — the Lee Brice concert, the rodeo and the demolition derby — have had ticket sales limited in order to control the size of the crowds. The grandstands for those events have also been reconfigured to allow for social distanced seating.

More than 1,300 tickets have been sold for the concert, but that is less than half the capacity designated for the venue. Campbell does not anticipate any of the major events getting close to half capacity, which will allow fairgoers to easily maintain proper social distancing.

In 2019 the fair had 79,000 attendees over five days. The potential scope of this year’s event drew public outcry in the weeks after the fair board voted to move forward with planning. Several fair mainstays, including the parade, the beer garden, the party pit and the carnival, were canceled out of safety concerns.

The 4H and FFA student events will be a main focus this year.

“We’re looking to top the auction sales from last year,” Campbell said. “We want to set a record and show what this county can do for 4H and FFA.”

The market livestock sale will be held live online through Gardner Auction. Bidders can register and pre-bid as lots are listed, until the live auction is webcast on Aug. 22.

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