MISSOULA — The Western Montana Fairgrounds has been a staple of the community for over a century -- showcasing Montana’s robust agricultural scene, hosting rodeos and fairs.
But the hub of Western Montana agriculture needed a facelift, and five years ago, Missoula County set out to rework the grounds.
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To their surprise, the pandemic lent a hand in accomplishing some of that construction, allowing larger areas to be developed faster since there were no fairgoers to avoid.
All was calm on the Western Montana Fairgrounds on Friday. Besides the steady splashing of the sprinklers, the only excitement is the occasional bug.
But before you know it the field of sprinklers will see carnival rides; empty food stands will splash grease and powdered sugar and goats will offer their signature ‘welcome’ to the fair.
“It’s for everyone, it’s here to mix urban and rural, we need to remember that we stand on common ground,” noted Western Montana Fair Event and Operations manager Billie Ayers.
“We need to celebrate the fact that we can get back together, so it really is for families, it's for the young. It's for those that are just tired of being cooped up in their homes,” Ayers added.
Making its grand return after a year of watered-down festivities, the Western Montana Fair will have all people have missed -- and a lot more.
Missoula County adopted a plan to redevelop the fairgrounds in 2016.
The plan included utility extensions, renovations to historic buildings, a new maintenance shop, a learning center to house the County Weed District and 4-H, landscaping, 6000 feet of new trails, and 10 new acres of open space.
Ayers says the finished phase one product will offer a better experience from the moment people step foot on the grounds.
“When you see the transition, there are no more fences to walk around and there's so much more seating, we have made seating out of anything that we can find, from our parking barriers to our seating walls. We're gonna have a lot more picnic tables, umbrellas, there'll be shade and seating for everyone." - Billie Ayers
One noteworthy fence that’s coming down is the beer garden. Fairgoers will now be able to walk around most of the fairgrounds, drink in hand; as long as they’re of age.
But the biggest transformation is the historic plaza that will be unveiled at the 2021 fair,” Ayers said.
The fair will also see digital elements at play. Online entries for exhibits, online ticket sales, and a virtual exhibit guide -- all of which will soon launch on the fair’s website.
Along with the modern, the traditional aspects of the fair will return. Expect livestock shows, 4H exhibits, rodeo, and bull riding.
“Flat track motorcycle racing from the 1920s,” Ayers added. “Native dance. Congolese choirs coming. We have contra dancers; we have square dancers.
You’ll also want to dust off the cowboy boots for some boot-scootin' boogie.
“We are showcasing the best barn in western Montana, the Commercial Building, with a barn dance every night,” Ayers said.
“We need to reconnect, deepen the connection within our community, and we think there’s no better way to do that than with a dance, so we’re calling this the hoedown in Midtown,” he concluded.
The official end to the first phase of the fairground's redevelopment will be the completion of the new butterfly house which broke ground last month.
The next phase of development will include a new livestock center and grandstand.
Click here for more information about the fairgrounds as well as this year's Western Montana Fair.
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