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All’s fair this week as Park County Fair kicks off

As a public service, members of the Powell Volunteer Fire Department washed the parking lot and patios at the Park County Fair Wednesday evening. Working off a pumper truck, Levi Kary got the place clean as a whistle. The fair kicks off today (Tuesday). The free stage acts start at noon and pig wrestling squirms into action at 7 p.m. tonight. As a public service, members of the Powell Volunteer Fire Department washed the parking lot and patios at the Park County Fair Wednesday evening. Working off a pumper truck, Levi Kary got the place clean as a whistle. The fair kicks off today (Tuesday). The free stage acts start at noon and pig wrestling squirms into action at 7 p.m. tonight. Tribune photo by Gib Mathers

Months of work, preparation and anticipation comes to a head today (Tuesday) in the official opening of the 2012 Park County Fair.

Fairgoers will be treated to a slew of acts that range from comedy hip hop stylings to face painters and nightly entertainment headlined by Western Underground, the country band that backed the late Wyomingite and country star, Chris LeDoux (see related story on Page 8).

“There’s great entertainment,” Fair Director Jennifer Lohrenz says of this year’s affair.

The work that went into preparing for the annual shindig should be evident as soon as fairgoers arrive at the freshly re-painted gate houses and continue right through the re-painted bathrooms and barn entryways. The barns have all been cleaned up in readiness for the big week, poised to host people and all sorts of animals, from cattle and pigs to ducks and dogs. As always, display cases will be filled with Park County residents’ finest jams and jellies and needlework. Vendors will be hawking all kinds of wares and homegrown cooking.

Amid the traditional fair fare, attendees may also notice a number of changes on the fairgrounds.

Likely most prominent is the reconstruction of the free stage.

“The stage was pretty dilapidated and in pretty rough shape,” said County Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Mike Garza of the previous set-up. The stage and north end of the pavilion previously had to be covered with tarps each fair to protect them from the elements.

“You never had a lot of shade in there, and unless they had their own little camper that they could bring in, the performers had no place to change or kind of take a break between performances,” Garza said.

But between a couple weeks and around $14,500, the county buildings and grounds crew laid a new concrete pad and constructed a new permanent stage. It has full lights, an enclosed dressing room with air conditioning and a storage room on the side. In addition, some dampening panels are being put in place to cut down on the echo.

The lineup of entertainment on the stage itself has been refreshed, as it is every year, and the format has been tweaked as well.

In a change, the fair board decided to pencil in a “dinner hour” that’s free of entertainment. So, starting at 5 p.m., there will be an hour or an hour and a half with no music, clogging or anything else “to allow folks to do what they what to do, to sit, come here and enjoy company and visit,” Lohrenz said.

Some new technology is also coming to the traditional to Saturday’s Junior Livestock Sale, as communications cabling has been installed between the sale barn and the beef, dairy, and swine barns. Since TCT will be filming the sale, that video will be pushed out in realtime to TVs in the barns, Lohrenz said. That will allow exhibitors in the barn to see when they’re due to show and Lohrenz hopes it will allow more spectators to view and enjoy the sale.

“It’s actually really a neat step to what we can do as a fair, bringing the four corners of our fair together,” she said.

Lohrenz said she hopes more communication lines can be added across the fair’s 23 acres during Phase III of planned upgrades to the grounds’ electrical grid.

As part of a Phase II, the fairgrounds added and upgraded RV pedestals on the fairgrounds’ northeast end in the past year and added a new access road for RV parking.  A third horse arena has been added on the grounds’ east end, and two of three arenas now have lighting; Lohrenz expects those lights will get put to use during the fair’s three solid days of horse shows.

Upgraded electrical service in the horse barns, meanwhile, should put an end to overheating and short circuits.

The rabbit barn is another beneficiary of renovations over the past year. Its center wall has been taken down, allowing more flexibility in splitting the space between rabbits and poultry and hopefully making for a cooler building. A rabbit showing area also has been established, and the wool room got new paneling to replace some water-logged walls.

The old fair manager’s house was demolished this year, and all that remains is its concrete slab. That’s been covered with a tarp and surrounded by bleachers — also new — for a reptile-themed event this year.

Fairgoers also may notice another change in scenery if they look at the area south of the grandstand, near the fence along Fifth Street. There, crews removed about a dozen trailer loads of driftwood logs, old pasture gates, old damaged fencing and other “junk” that had piled up over the years, Garza said.

It’s already an aesthetic improvement, but Lohrenz envisions that in the future, the space could be turned into a thoroughfare that provides additional access from the horse arenas to the center of the grounds, or perhaps space for a second beverage-serving area.

“Now that you can actually see the ground in there, you can see the possibilities,” she said.

The biggest possibility on the horizon for the fairgrounds is a planned, new multi-use facility to replace the aging complex of exhibit halls. The proposed new building would restore the space lost when the large exhibit hall was demolished (the concrete slab below the large exhibit hall will serve as a picnic area again this fair) and provide some room for growth.

“We are feeling the crunch of square footage this year,” Lohrenz said. “I have had more vendor requests than I received last year, and last year I turned them away. This year I’m turning away more.”

Lohrenz said she’s done everything she can to accommodate local, Park County businesses and residents.

“We are the Park County Fair,” she noted.

Park County commissioners recently approved an application seeking money from the federal government to help pay for the projected $4 million new multi-use facility currently envisioned.

The new building would be used year-round, but Lohrenz said the possibilities were clear in preparing for this year’s fair.

“It would allow us a lot more options if we had that space, even just for the fair,” she said.

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