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September 2006

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Free Larimer County Fair draws bigger crowds

By JoAn Bjarko
North Forty News

The Larimer County Fair found the momentum it needed this year to turn attendance and concession sales into an uphill ride.

Campuswide events manager DeeDee Smidt reported attendance was up 10 to 12 percent and concession sales were up 40 percent.

Since moving to the county's new complex, The Ranch, three years ago, the annual county fair had failed to draw the crowds it had at the old fairgrounds. This year, however, the fair board opted for both free gate admission and free parking, and it worked. Smidt estimated attendance totaled 75,000, including those at the parade and pancake breakfast.

PRCA rodeo attendance over three events equaled 9,141, a boost of 37 percent over last year. "It was spectacular," claimed Jim Wooldridge, fair board chairman. "The best fair since it came out to The Ranch."

Smidt said vendors were still signing up the day the fair started, with a total of 89 at inside and outside spaces. That generated about $27,000 in income for the fair.

Larimer County gets a guaranteed income through its contract with the Bill Hames Carnival, which came to $99,225 this year. A private company, Ovations, runs the concessions, of which the county gets a percentage. In addition, the fair attracted numerous commercial sponsors this year.

The fair also featured plenty of free fun, with entertainment on the community stages, open class and 4-H exhibits and demonstrations like the Northern Colorado Garden Railroaders. Smidt credited fair board member Lorna Spear for organizing events such as the cherry pie-eating contest and a multitude of youth performances.

Looking ahead, Smidt said people enjoyed the Thursday night parade - the same evening the fair opens. That will likely continue next year, but it could be held someplace other than Loveland, she said.

County Commissioner Kathay Rennels advocated for continuing the policy of free parking and free admission. "There was a whole different ambiance out there," she said. "It created a county fair atmosphere."

"It's incumbent upon the fair to provide venues that can make money" without charging an entry fee, Rennels added.

Smidt commented that the weather in early August also cooperated. About the time it generally gets uncomfortably hot outdoors, the clouds rolled in and people stayed longer, she noted.

Though not a record, the junior livestock sale, which concludes the fair, brought in about $230,000 for the youth that raise and exhibit animals.

Cassie Matsuda from Wellington showed the grand champion market beef, which sold for $6,000 to Gold Roofing of Loveland. Sale chairman Dwayne Hummel praised Gold Roofing owners Amy and Bill Goldsberry for bidding against each other to give the grand champion a good price.

Derrick Brown of Timnath sold the reserve grand champion market beef for $4,100, also to Gold Roofing.

Hummel noted that the bidding for poultry was especially strong this year, with the grand champion turkey going for $1,200. The grand champion duck sold for $1,000.

When the auction concluded, the average price for beef was $2,054, lambs averaged $628 and swine averaged $668.

Rennels is enthused about the future of the county fair and the fairgrounds. "We had to figure out how to fit into that space and we did it," she said. "Now we can grow."

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