The Flathead County Fairgrounds will open the gates for the Northwest Montana Fair and Rodeo in less than a month.
After last year’s uncertain event, Fair Manager Mark Campbell started the planning process in early 2021 with some trepidation.
“Things were unclear when we presented our first budget to the commissioners,” Campbell said last week. “But this summer has brought a lot of clarity to what we may expect, and I think what we’re seeing is just a tremendous response to the Flathead Valley in general.”
Campbell said after watching several major events in the county over the last few months, including Under The Big Sky and local rodeos, he is no longer worried that numbers for the fair will be low.
“My expectations are all of normal for our attendance, and we’re starting to prepare for potentially much more than [normal],” Campbell said.
The 2019 edition of the Northwest Montana Fair and Rodeo saw a record breaking attendance of 79,371, while last summer’s stripped down event was just 40% of that number.
In addition to the safety concerns of attending a large gathering during the height of a pandemic, Campbell believes a large portion of fair-goers opted not to attend after it was announced that there would be no carnival rides in 2020.
“It attracts such a huge element of our market,” Campbell said.
The carnival will be back in almost full swing this year, Ferris wheel and all, with 21-22 attractions, fewer than the usual 30. The price for an all-access, all-day wristband will be the same as it has been in past years: $25 in advance and $35 at the gate.
The grandstand shows this year, which include the Chris Janson concert on Wednesday night, three days of PRCA rodeo and Indian relay races and Sunday’s Big Air Bash, are selling tickets at about the same pace as in 2019, which Campbell considers a good sign, as it was a banner year.
As always, Campbell and the Flathead County Fair Board are making sure to highlight the 4H and FFA portions of the fair.
“It’s one of our priorities, and while we’re not up front about it, and it’s not the lights and excitement, it’s first and foremost our best connection back to the community and what these kids are doing,” Campbell said.
More than 220 youth have registered animals for the market livestock auction, a 10% increase from last year and the highest number ever.
“We’ve set up and expanded the pens and structures to the extent we could with our resources,” Campbell said. “Based on the number of entries, we can accommodate that many animals but not many more. It’s going to be a full Trade Center, I guarantee it.”
The fair competitive program — the arts, crafts and culinary options — is currently accepting entries, with a deadline of Aug. 1 at 4:40 p.m. There are usually around 8,000 entries to the competitive program, which Campbell says is one of his favorite parts of the five-day program. Interested participants are encouraged to enter as soon as possible to ensure they don’t forget and lose the chance “to share what they’re really passionate about.”
Campbell plans to finalize the five-day schedule in the next few days, pulling together all 1,012 pieces.
“It seems like the in-between time gets shorter each time and I forget that I go through this each and every year,” Campbell said. “At this point I’m just hoping for a little cooler weather by fair time because honestly fair food just tastes better at that point.”
The Northwest Montana Fair and Rodeo will take place Aug. 18-22. Tickets can be purchased at www.nwmtfair.com.
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