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080215-mis-wmf-fairgrounds

At 101 years old, the Missoula County Fairgrounds received some much-needed attention leading up to the Western Montana Fair.

Preparing for the Western Montana Fair is like building a small town.

There's orchestrating law enforcement, managing medical staff, collaborating with maintenance crews and meetings with the health department, Missoula County Fairgrounds Director Todd Garrett said.

With the fair set to open Tuesday, "I've put in my request for 75 degrees every day," he said.

The weather isn't likely to abide, however, with highs forecast in the 90s Tuesday through Thursday before dipping into the 80s for the weekend.

But if Garrett has his way, all of the other events – new and old – will go as planned. 

Garrett said he and his small team are trying to get back to basics, reintroducing some old traditions while starting some new ones.

For example, the fair will begin Wednesday through Saturday at 1 p.m. with a parade led by high school students and a 4-H animal. Historically, the fair started with a parade through downtown to the grounds, but that was discontinued in 2004, Garrett said. 

"We wanted a down-home country fair, as compared to more commercialized, large events," he said.

The fair also features new entertainment like the Strength Team, an evangelical group of athletes that wows crowds by demonstrating feats of strength. The former NFL players and bull riders break baseball bats, boards and bricks. The Moksha Aerial Artists will also perform their awe-inspiring acts in the air, suspended by flowing sheets of silk.  

The main musical event features country singer/songwriter Tyler Barham, who grew up in Florence. He will play Friday night on the Stampede Stage. On Saturday night, Blue Collar takes the stage. 

Despite losing two pageant directors over the course of the past year and only having one contestant in each category, the Rodeo Queen competition will continue as scheduled, Garrett said. He wanted to put on a clinic this year that would help draw interest to the competition, but that fell through. 

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Last year, Garrett's first managing the fair, there were a few snags.

Missoula Animal Control and the state veterinarian received several complaints about an exotic animal display, which was asked to leave, and the Missoula City-County Health Department shut down three vendors for food violations. 

Garrett said those problems are a thing of the past and not likely to recur. 

This year, Animal Wonders Inc. was invited to give education presentations with live animals. It will be on the free stage 6-8 p.m. Friday.

Food vendors will be inspected by the health department upon arrival.

"They have had to prove to the health department that they have made the necessary changes," Garrett said. 

Shannon Therriault, the city-county environmental health supervisor, said vendors also had to go through food safety training.

"We are confident that (violations) won’t happen this year," she said. "If it’s a problem, we have procedures and rules in place that we can address them."

Garrett said health and safety are the main concern for him, and as such he has installed several swamp coolers in larger buildings, like the commercial and culinary buildings.

The grounds crew also has installed shade clothes, and Mountain Water Co. will have a truck with drinking water parked on the grounds. 

He said if fair-goers do feel overheated, they should go to exhibit buildings, where there's air conditioning. 

"We hope that people come out to the fair and have a good and safe time," he said. 

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