A Rifle-based committee that recently began to look into the future use and operation of the Garfield County Fairgrounds will be expanded to include residents from the rest of the county.
During a Wednesday, April 10, workshop with Rifle City Council and staff, County Commissioner Mike Samson said he "dropped the ball" by not explaining better what the county wanted.
Samson said the commissioners charged the fair board with developing a strategic plan for the future of the fairgrounds.
"What I should have said was that people from outside Rifle need to be involved," Samson said. "I fully back keeping the fairgrounds in Rifle, but it's a county facility so we need some representation on this committee from outside Rifle."
Rifle Regional Economic Development Corp. President Michael Langhorne, who organized the Rifle group, said if the county is in charge of the committee, "do you see this committee, as it is now, continuing?"
Samson and County Manager Drew Gorgey both said they did want those on the committee to continue.
"We know that if you have grown up with the fair and the fairgrounds in Rifle, you're as passionate about seeing it continue as any fair board member," Gorgey said.
Mayor Pro Tem Alan Lambert said he was present when Commissioner John Martin asked Langhorne to form a committee to look at the future of the fairgrounds.
"I would hope you would at least talk to the people on the committee," Lambert said. "They might feel they've wasted their time" attending the three meetings held to date.
The fairgrounds committee is scheduled to meet tonight at 5:30 p.m. in the Rifle Branch Library.
Langhorne said many in Rifle "have a lot of passion about protecting our culture and that includes the fairgrounds."
"That should definitely be part of your strategic plan," Langhorne added. "Do you plan to keep that level of community involvement?"
Samson said it was "critical to do that."
"And I'm willing to pick up the ball to make that happen," he added. "I think the folks on this committee should continue with the enlarged membership. We can give you an official charge or scope of work."
If the county did open up the possibility of relocation of the fairgrounds, Gorgey said they would look at the entire county.
"I'd caution everyone, though, that we're focused on the improvements at the present site," he said. "At some point, we might outgrow it."
Building a new fairgrounds at a different site has always been a financial issue, Gorgey said.
"The price tag to do that has always meant relocation has been a non-starter," he added.
Samson said the commissioners decided to make close to $1 million in improvements to the fairgrounds this year, since the county is not funding an air show this year.
Gorgey said planning this year's fair - the 75th - is "taking all our time, along with planning how to improve the facility."
"Our goal is not just to make it a better rodeo facility, but a rodeo destination as well," he said.
Three flag poles behind the grandstands will be relocated to the west, and the east side of the fairgrounds along Railroad Avenue 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 enlarged, Gorgey said, along with gates and chutes, and sidewalks will also be constructed in certain areas.
The improvements will not only add more paved parking, but the appearance of the fairgrounds from Railroad Avenue will be better, Gorgey added.
A changing area will be provided, and recreational vehicle hook ups are part of the project as well, Gorgey said.
The commissioners are expected to award a contract for the improvements at their first meeting in May, Gorgey noted.
Lambert called the fairgrounds "a gem of a facility that's at a crossroads."
"You see other fairgrounds facilities in the state doing things with not just rodeos and horse shows," he said. "You have sporting events, outdoor shows and art shows. I think it's at the perfect location now, so we really need to see how we can use it more."
"I am 100 percent committed to fixing the management of the fairgrounds, and I want to assure you it has my full attention," Gorgey said.
Lambert said after the improvements are finished and the facility is well run, "it will definitely be even more of an asset to the city and the county."
Other subjects briefly discussed at the workshop included:
• An explanation of how the Rifle Animal Shelter operates and is funded. Samson said the county has started to look at how each of its departments and services, such as animal control, function in anticipation of an expected $10 million drop in property tax revenue next year due to the downturn in natural gas development in the county.
• The extension of Taughenbaugh Boulevard to Last Chance Road is "not on the city's radar" due to the lack of development projects in that area, said City Manager John Hier.
However, the city is including traffic counts due to increased use of the roads in that area by the gas industry as it engineers a fourth roundabout at the I-70 interchange, added Assistant City Manager Matt Sturgeon.
• The city's $25 million water treatment plant project will include traffic disruptions on U.S. Highway 6 east of Rifle for the construction of a raw water pipeline, according to Utilities Director Dick Deussen.
The north lane of the highway will be dug up and trucks will haul fill dirt from the new plant site to the old sewer lagoons in West Rifle, he said.