County fair participation on the upswing |

County fair participation on the upswing

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

RIFLE, Colorado – “We have a tie for first place in adults,” said Garfield County Commissioner John Martin, speaking loudly to be heard in the bustling Open Class pavilion at the Garfield County Fair on Thursday. “They’re going to have to split the prize.”

Martin was one of two judges of the annual Commissioners Cookie Jar contest at the Garfield County Fair on Thursday, along with fellow Commissioner Tom Jankovsky.

Commissioner Mike Samson, the third member of the board of county commissioners and a known cookie lover whose district includes Rifle, was a no-show.

“Mr. Samson must have gotten distracted,” Jankovsky said, after he and Martin had spent a quarter of an hour or so inspecting the cookies and their containers.

Their task was a bit easier because there were only three entries – from adults Maryjane Hangs of Silt and Karen Rhodes of Rifle, and one from a teenager, Shenendoah Boston, 13, of Silt.

Hangs and Rhodes shared the adult prize, and Boston won in the teen category.

The cookie jar contest, held in a building behind the fairgrounds grandstands, was one of 16 Open Class categories at the fair, which continues at the county fairgrounds in Rifle through Sunday with live music, a livestock sale, a demolition derby, a classic car show, a draft horse pull and more.

Shenandoah, who won $20 for her cookie jar creation, moved to Silt from Bryan, Texas, with her mom and stepdad, Lauren and Jose Espinoza, just two and a half weeks ago. She had never before entered a fair contest. In fact, she had never even been to a county fair.

“I hate to admit this, but we never went to the county fair in Bryan,” said her mom, who works at Riverside Middle School. “This is our first fair, so we thought we would both enter.”

Lauren Espinoza entered three paintings of an unusual, textured style that ended up in a class all their own, so she won first, second and third prize ribbons.

For the cookie jar contest, Hangs entered a worn pair of cowboy boots with spurs that served as the jar, topped with a straw cowboy hat that acted as a lid, all wrapped in a bandanna. It was a play on this year’s fair theme, “Sunny Days, Western Ways.”

Hangs is in charge of the Open Class categories and has been for years. She was assisted this year by fair board member Doreen Herriott.

“I’ve probably come to the fairs since I was 6 years old,” said Hangs, who is now 71.

She grinned about the cookie jar tie with Rhodes.

“I and Karen have done this, against each other, for I don’t know how many years. We compete in the canning, too,” Hangs said.

“And we have so much fun doing it,” chimed in Rhodes. Her entry was a miniature old-style suitcase filled with cookies and a teddy bear wearing a tiny cowboy hat.

“I envisioned someone taking a train somewhere, with cookies for their family,” she explained.

Prize money for the contest came from the two county commissioner’s pockets, $25 each.

Rhodes proudly pointed out the dizzying array of canned goods entered in the open class competition, as well as two entries in the homemade wine category – a white wine by Michael Flagler of Rifle labeled Dead Wasp White, and a red wine from Denise Suits of Parachute.

“This year, we did have a lot,” said Rhodes of the canning entries. “I wish we’d had a couple more wines, though.”

Hangs said the baking entries actually were fewer this year than last.

“One of our bakers went on a cruise. And one of our junior bakers got to go to Alaska to see her dad,” she explained.

Nearby, most of the fair board members were seated at a table judging the pie baking competition, taking small bites of the two dozen or so pies entered and trying not to get too full, too fast.

The panel of judges included Clayton Costanzo of Silt, son of fair board vice-president Kip Costanzo. Clayton just happened to riding around doing fair-related chores with dad when the time came to judge the pies.

“I’m so lucky,” he said, selecting a fork full of pie.

His dad gave him a smiling look and predicted Clayton would be a Fair Board member himself soon.

Over at the livestock arena, 16-year-old Randi Sheridan of Rifle was preparing to receive the Reserve Champion ribbon for her goat.

This was her eighth year competing in 4-H events, and she also has appeared in the National Western Stock Show in Denver.

Discussing what benefits she’s gained from her 4-H involvement, she paused for a second and asked with a grin, “What do you not get?”

Growing serious, she said the Colorado State University Extension agent who works with Garfield County 4-H clubs, Kim Schriver, “works a lot on leadership skills.” Sheridan said she has developed people skills and organizational skills as a result of her involvement in 4-H.

After she graduates from high school, Sheridan said, “I’m going to med school. I don’t know where yet. I’m looking at neurology or optics, as a surgeon.”

Although there have been some concerns in recent years that the county fair was not attracting the participants it once had, most noticeably in the Open Class competition, those concerns have largely vanished.

“It seems to be blossoming,” said Karen Rhodes. For the first time in a while, a Carbondale woman, Melanie Cardiff, won best in show for canning, for her pickles.

“We hardly ever get people from Carbondale,” Rhodes said.

“It’s really increased,” Hangs added.

Costanzo agreed, noting, “I think it’s been coming back up over the last two years. It’s starting to get back to more of a family fair.”

Their assessment that the fair is as popular as ever was backed up by the newcomers to Silt, too.

“We’ve loved it,” said Jose Espinoza. “People are real talented around here.”

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