There are mathematical principals at work at this week’s Western Montana Fair.
When gates open at 11 a.m. on weekdays there will be no ticket takers for the first two hours.
“We’re taking a little bit of a chance in that we’re going to certainly see reduced gate revenues,” fairgrounds director Steve Earle said. “Some of it is backfilled by sponsorships, but on the other hand, if there’s an increased flow of people and more business in the concession stands and the commercial booths, then we should be able to do OK.”
No gate admission will be charged Tuesday through Friday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. As usual, the last day of the fair on Sunday is free for everyone, and other special ticket prices are sprinkled throughout the week.
With sponsors chipping in, Earle said the experiment will work if concession sales – of which the fair receives a percentage – increase 10 percent to 15 percent from last year.
That means more steak kebobs and deep-fried candy bars from the Clark Fork City Kids booth, tater snouts and Flathead cherries from the Rocky Mountainaires, fried cheese curds from the Friends of Fort Missoula, Vikings and lefse from the Sons of Norway and on and on.
Changes are afoot across the Missoula County Fairgrounds as the Earle era comes to an end. He announced his retirement this spring after three years at the helm, and his replacement is expected to be named early this week. Joe Easton of Missoula, Todd Garrett of Whitefish and Pamela Edwards of Lexington, Ky, are the finalists.
After more than 50 years, the fair has a new carnival vendor. North Star Amusements of Billings and Cody, Wyo., will combine its two outfits to bring at least 30 rides, five of them dubbed “spectacular rides,” as well as more games than Missoula fairgoers are accustomed to.
“They basically absorbed the Inland Empire Shows route,” said Earle. That company, formerly based in Missoula, was wracked with financial and litigation problems last year and disappeared after the 2012 season.
There won’t be a Saturday night country or rock concert at the racetrack. Instead, Earle and the fair planning committee opted to revive the Tuesday night Christian concert, headlined by Grammy-award winning Jars of Clay of Greenville, Ill.
The other nights are filled by PRCA rodeo performances Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; a Professional Bull Riders event on Thursday, and the always-popular Demolition Derby at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.
On the west end of the arena, motorcycle stunts from the Big Air Insanity tour will be thrice-daily events at 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
There’s a resurgence of goats and miniature beef on the 4-H/FFA or Country Fair side of the grounds. Campbell Barrett, 4-H Youth Development director at the county extension office, said new this year is the pack goat project – working with the animals on back-country packing. It includes an obstacle competition.
“Country Fair had to add a 40-by-80-foot tent to house the all the animals,” Earle said.
Indeed, there’ll be five tents in the area instead of three to accommodate new kids acts, a computer show and the like.
A giant 60-foot mural by local painter Josh Shaffner was recently completed. It’ll greet fairgoers at the main gate, on the north wall of the Home Arts building.
Other attractions to look for:
- The Missoula Historic Preservation Commission will continue its oral histories project. Volunteer historians will be on hand Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to record stories and personal histories of western Montanans. Interviews take place at the Fair History Building to the south of the Culinary Building. Participants are encouraged to make an appointment beforehand through the Historic Preservation Office at 552-6638.
- An exhibit in the Commercial Building by the Lolo National Forest on the impacts the immense 1988 Canyon Creek fire in and around the Scapegoat Wilderness had on the landscape and firefighting approaches in the West.