Flathead County

Fairgrounds Prohibits Overnight Camping

Uptick in transient encampments reported on the property led to change in policy

By Micah Drew
The carnival at the Montana Fair and Rodeo in Kalispell on August 18, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Flathead County Fairgrounds has instituted a new policy prohibiting overnight camping at the fairgrounds except for during special events. The new policy also applies to vehicles parked overnight. Previously individuals could pay a fee to spend up to seven nights camped at the fairgrounds within a 30-day period.

The change comes after an uptick of incidents largely involving “transient encampments on the property and use of the horse stalls for shelter,” according to a press release from the county.

As of last week, the county has spent more than $10,000 cleaning up trash and debris left behind at the fairgrounds this year.

“The funds and labor to keep the Fairgrounds safe and enjoyable to all who use it is not sustainable,” said the release. To enforce the no-camping policy, signs have been added to all entrances and the north entrance and walk-in gates are now locked.

During an April 18 meeting of the Flathead County Commission, Fairgrounds Manager Sam Nunnally shared an incident report list with the commissioners showing the uptick in overnight stays and reported incidents that began late last year. Between Dec. 29, 2022 and April 18, 2023, there were 17 major incidents, though Nunnally said it was an incomplete list.

A majority of the incidents were reports of people sleeping in horse stalls or other buildings on the grounds, and leaving inordinate amounts of trash, belongings, drug paraphernalia and human waste behind. Law enforcement was called in many of the incidents. Nunnally highlighted a recent incident where an individual lit a fire in one of the barns to keep warm, requiring a call to the fire department to put it out.

“The last three weeks in particular, the fairgrounds were inundated with people coming in the middle of the night, setting up tent camps and we couldn’t get them to pay or clean up,” Nunnally told the Beacon. “We would consider a review of this policy in the future but we’re limited on our staffing time and need to keep the focus on a good, clean, safe fairground for everyone to use.”

The new policy took effect on Monday.

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