Close to $1 million in improvements are planned this spring at the Garfield County Fairgrounds in Rifle, County Manager Drew Gorgey told a fairgrounds study group on Thursday, March 21.
The group, headed by the Rifle Economic Development Corp., has recently started looking at the best use of the fairgrounds. President Michael Langhorne and others stress that relocating the fairgrounds is not the objective and hope to gather community input in the near future.
Gorgey said the improvements were scheduled so this summer's fair, the 75th, "can be the best one ever."
"It's an eyesore right now," Gorgey said. "I'm embarrassed by what I see out there. Cleaning up our yard is an easy thing to do, so we'll do it."
The improvements include more pavement at the entrance and around the events hall, where vehicles now park on a gravel lot. A retaining wall and fence around the outdoor arena will be taken down and pavement poured there as well, Gorgey continued.
"The back of the grandstands now looks like a construction yard, and we want to square off the fencing that's there," Gorgey said.
Three flag poles behind the grandstands will be relocated to the west, along Railroad Avenue and the east side of the fairgrounds along Railroad will see a 6- to 7-foot tall berm constructed, with grass and other landscaping, Gorgey said.
An animal "warm up" area southeast of the grandstands will be retained, Gorgey said, and sidewalks will also be constructed in certain areas.
"We think the enhancements we've planned will favor rodeo users and the area between the arena and parking areas will be more practical for use," he added. "We're trying to do all this so it can be a real rodeo destination. There really isn't one like that between Denver and Grand Junction. We know the fairgrounds are a huge economic asset to Garfield County and to Rifle, so we wanted to take a look at what we can do to make it better and at what cost."
A contract for the project is expected to be presented to the County Commissioners in early May, he added, so construction can be finished by the fair in August.
The fairgrounds sits on an 8- to 10-acre site donated to the county for that use, but its usable area has been reduced by the construction of the county human services building and the Mountain Family Medical Center in recent years.
Langhorne said it was good to see the county invest in the facility.
"We all know it's very difficult to run any fairgrounds facility in the black," he added. "But this community is passionate about having it here. But if the size and the arrangement of what we have now means it can never be more than what it is, what should happen?"
Rifle Parks Director Tom Whitmore said it was important to have a unified vision of the fairgrounds future, and added he'd like to see more city recreation programs offered at the fairgrounds.
Fair Board President Levy Burris said utilizing the facility in the best and most appropriate way is possible.
"We need to plan for a realistic future use that's in the best interests of everyone, that's fair and what the community wants," Burris said.
Former fair board member Paul Bernklau said "You can't put a monetary value on the education that's gained from the programs [such as the county 4-H program] and these uses."
Gorgey said the fairgrounds will be included in a facilities master plan that's due to be completed this year.
"This committee can help with a real focus on what is an ideal fairgrounds, then we can decide where to put it," Gorgey said. "I also think you need to ask everyone in the county, since it's a county facility."
"The last thing we ever want to see is the fairgrounds leave Rifle," Langhorne said.
Bernklau said the fairgrounds needs to be a good facility for user other than rodeos, perhaps similar to the state fairgrounds in Pueblo.
"Absent a $75 million donor, we'll do the best we can," Gorgey said.