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Western Montana Fair

Virtual rodeo; no bingo or carnival: Western Montana Fair proposes plans

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Rich Champion Fair Rodeo (copy)

This year's Western Montana Fair may include a televised rodeo, and limited tickets to the event.

The show will go on for this year's Western Montana Fair — to some degree — with a televised rodeo, virtual exhibits and socially distanced livestock events, according to plans that organizers proposed Monday to the Missoula Board of County Commissioners.

Although the fair plans to move forward with some events, other fixtures, such as the carnival, bingo, food concessions and motorsports are on hiatus until next year.

"This is what we're landing on in terms of what we think will really work this year," said Emily Brock, Missoula County Fairgrounds director.

Brock said the fair is working with the Missoula City-County Health Department to develop the plans, and will need the health department's approval before proceeding. The fair is scheduled Aug. 5-9. The county is currently hosting a drive-through COVID-19 testing site at the Fairgrounds, which Brock said would remain open if the health department chooses.

Brock said fairgrounds staff evaluated each component of the fair individually to decide which options were feasible with limited budgets and COVID-19 restrictions.

The proposed plan for this year's Western Montana Fair includes a televised rodeo, virtual still exhibits, and 4-H and FFA, Future Farmers of America, livestock events for show and sale. Brock said food concessionaires were invited, but many opted out because profits would be slim without the crowds.

There will not be open class livestock events this year, and the public will not be allowed to attend 4-H and FFA livestock events, though the shows will be filmed on MCAT.

"For the show, we're proposing one species per day," Brock said. "The species would load in, it would be judged and load out, and then no general public."

Brock said participants will be required to wear face masks inside barns and comply with social distancing protocols. Similarly, Brock said animal sales will be split between two days, with the animals for sale loading in and out each day.

Missoula County typically breaks even on the fair, spending about $500,000 that it makes back. However, the fair is anticipating an overall $20,000 deficit, which it is requesting from the county.

Commissioner Josh Slotnick said he felt it is important to honor the work of 4-H and FFA students despite the deficits.

"We still have opportunities for sponsorships, and I feel confident we'll make up that $20,000," he said.

The majority of the deficit comes from still exhibiting, and some from 4-H. However, Brock said the fair expects to get more sponsorships for 4-H, which will cover the premiums that contestants win for their livestock and the cost of hiring judges.

Despite the deficits, organizers and students involved in 4-H and FFA said the fair is an important milestone for them.

"The fair, in general, is just like the final culmination of all the hard work that you've been doing all year," said Lindsey Knight, a 4-H member and 2020 graduate of Frenchtown High School. "It's like stepping on home plate after you hit a home run ... You've done all the book work, all the working with your animals, it kind of just all comes together."

The fair is also tentatively proceeding with a televised rodeo, which would be a one-on-one match rodeo featuring about five world champions in Montana. Fair staff will work with historians to create short videos about each of the champions and Montana's rodeo history.

"It's kind of like the Olympics," Brock said. "We do the backstory on the contestants, and then we would have the rodeo match, and it would be televised."

There will be limited crowd seating with social distancing measures, with capacity for about 300 people total in the arena. Brock said she thinks the fair can bring in about $40,000 in sponsorships to cover the cost of the rodeo, but said they would not proceed with it if they are unable to get those sponsorships.

Still exhibits will also be held this year, although they will be "quasi virtual." Contestants will set up their exhibits in the commercial building by appointment to be judged and photographed. The winners will be revealed virtually during fair week.

Brock said there will also be exhibits focused on COVID-19 resilience within the community. She estimates the still exhibits will cost about $19,000, although she said she thinks the fair can raise about $5,000 in sponsorships, with the remaining $14,000 incurred by the county. Brock noted that the fair may not give a premium award for exhibit categories if there are only a few entries.

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