RIDGWAY – No tweaking with tradition is necessary, thank you. That was the position of over 40 members of Ouray County’s 4-H and ranching communities who spoke at a forum on July 29 about a proposal to split the combined Ouray County Labor Day Fair and Rodeo, placing the 2009 fair three weeks earlier than the rodeo, from Aug. 3-9.
The sometimes heated two-hour meeting held at the 4-H Event Center in Ridgway was the first public hearing held by the Ouray County Fair Board regarding the proposed split. Members of the board heard impassioned pleas not to change the mix of activities associated with the rodeo, 4-H Exhibit Day, dog show, and county fair.
“The fair board is very undecided with this thing. I was shocked that there were people who want to move it. We’re in a kind of gray area here. I’m not in favor one way or the other,” said fair board member Jorge Hernandez in his opening remarks.
Some reasons for moving the fair earlier included: enabling college bound 4-H members to remain active and show projects; increased availability of livestock buyers and fair judges; eliminating conflict with the school calendar; and allowing 4-H members summer vacation time after completing projects.
Many in attendance envisioned significant negative impacts from the change, including corrosion of traditions. Mandy Weber-George, who traveled from Durango to register her view, said, “The reasons [for change] are weak and pathetic… [The event] has become a huge reunion and celebration. They all go hand in hand and if you have to choose, both will suffer.”
Several opponents argued that 4-H members need more time, not less, to ready their animals for the fair. “It’s too tough getting cattle up to slaughter weight,” said Ridgway rancher Richard Weber, Sr.
Cheryl Smith, who also opposed the date change, said, “Combining the arts and crafts [festival] and fair, which is the kids’ biggest fundraiser, is a conflict.”
Fair board member Trent Hollister explained one reason he was considering the change was because he felt that the “fair focus” was lost. “4-H is becoming more money-driven and commercial,” he said.
According to Event Center Manager Susan Long, members of the fair board spoke about the proposed change with the Rodeo and Cattlemen’s associations, the Columbine Club, the Roping Club, and the Fairgrounds Advisory Council. She said that a few of the groups interviewed were in favor of the idea, while others deferred to whatever position the 4-H members might take. “The Rodeo Association was for it, since they are too tired to help, and the Cattlemen’s didn’t care,” Long said.
Log Hill Mesa resident Nancy Johnston reported that she had heard from a woman at the Columbine Club who claimed that “no one” was for the date change, but Long countered her claim. “There was a show of hands at the Columbine Club, and the response was very positive,” Long said.
Long reminded those in attendance that any recommendation of the board would be forwarded to the Ouray Board of County Commissioners, which is the decision-making body. She said the fair board was instructed by the commissioners to poll the public. “It’s the county commissioners’ decision. This is a fact-finding mission. It is not a fair board decision,” Long stressed.
No position was taken by the fair board during or following the meeting.