by Marissa Lorenz
The Middle Park Fair and Rodeo is upon us, just waiting to share the best of Western heritage with neighbors and strangers alike. The county fair is a staple of the American West, an organized way for communities to come together and showcase the rewards of all the hard work put into surviving in the rugged, arid, and often isolating lands that had become home to many a pioneering soul.
Grand County’s fair dates to 1912, when bucking horse contests were held in the streets of Kremmling, the county’s most populous town, exhibits were displayed wherever there was room, and spectators watched from streetside porches at the “first agricultural fair held in Northwestern Colorado.” “It is the privilege and duty of all our people to bring the best they have,” read an article in the Middle Park Times. “If you have a good horse or colt, bring it to the fair! If your wife has a nice loaf of bread, bring it to the fair! Bring the best you have of anything you have. This and this alone is what makes every fair a success.”
In 1929, a notice in newspapers across the state proclaimed, “The greatest exhibit of high altitude vegetables ever assembled, a showing of purebred stock which has taken many honors, a big rodeo, and a racing program are some of the features of the Middle Park Fair.”
And in 2019, over a century on, the tradition continues with exhibits of both new and long-established skills and crafts, livestock showings, kids games, a street dance, horse racing, royalty crowning, fashion show, professional rodeo and more, including the first ever show featuring a “nationally-recognized concert name,” in the form of Easton Corbin. “The Middle Park Fair and Rodeo continues to be a way to reconnect with and honor the Western traditions that were so important to the founding of Grand County and Colorado,” says Fair Board President Janet Engel, whose family homesteaded here. “But even more,” she continues, “it remains so important to our community, as we move more and more toward recreational pursuits and away from ag, that we preserve those traditions for future generations. It is a way to embrace a changing world and not lose sight of where we came from.”
And the youth element to the fair is indeed a central focus. Local 4-H clubs were first established in 1933 and immediately incorporated into fair happenings. In recent years, the numbers of 4-Hers are once again increasing, and Lacy Stovner, 4H Program Coordinator, says that there are currently 146 youth enrolled in 4H or Cloverbuds (for those between 5 and 7-years-old). 80 interviews are scheduled on Friday for students to explain what they’ve learned in such diverse areas as shooting sports, cake decorating, and sewing projects. And there are 132 entries of market livestock, such as steer, pigs, lambs, poultry, goats, and llamas. Domestic dogs, cats, and horses will also be shown.
“I really encourage everyone to come watch the 4-H events,” Stovner says. “4-H members have worked hard since last fall in preparing projects for the fair, the culmination of the 4-H year, and this lets them show what they’ve done.” She and Engel highly encourage attendance at the Junior Livestock sale on Friday night as well. “The sale helps support these kids and their ability to learn about and sustain the Western culture,” explains Engel. “4-H is really a family endeavor. Former members will come back and see what their siblings and friends have done. Learning responsibility through caring for the animals is so important. And the sale pays for the animals care all year long and goes towards the students’ college education.”
The Exhibit Hall will also house projects and exhibits from other community members. There are 80 divisions in all that can highlight entries ranging from photography to cupcakes to pickles to quilts to welding to LEGO building. Community exhibits have been part of the fair from the beginning and historically focused on such things as fresh produce, needlepoints, sewing, and soap making. Kremmling natives Twila O’Hotto and Sheila Jones serve as co-superintendents of the Exhibit Hall and O’Hotto recalls reading about her grandmother, Bessie Wheatley, being mentioned in the Middle Park Times as a ribbon winner in the 1910s or ‘20s. “We were an agricultural community,” she recounts, “and there was fierce competition amongst the ladies from the ranches.” There were home demonstration clubs in each community. But it was more than showing off one’s best jams or jellies. It was a demonstration of pride in the work that ranch women did alongside their male family members, work that wasn’t for fun or just to pass the time, but to ensure survival in these resilient communities. These women were more than ranch wives. “They were the bakers, canners, sewers, gardeners, et cetera,” O’Hotto reminds
This year’s entries will be taken on Tuesday the 6th. Judging will take place on the 7th, and the Exhibit Hall will open for public viewing on the 8th. The pair is especially excited about welcoming new judges for the photography and artwork entries and encourage projects in those classes.
Rodeo activities are, of course, at the heart of the Western Fair. Neighbors would periodically get together for horse racing or bucking competitions as entertainment in between the hard work of the ranching calendar. And these exercises became more and more organized over the years. They too have been central to the Grand County/ Middle Park Fair events from the beginning. They were deemed too expensive one year during World War I and two years during the Depression years of the early 1930s. And for two years in World War II, the entire fair was suspended. But rodeo would continue to make a come-back. Over the years, events would be part of the Rodeo Cowboys Association, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and, today, the Colorado Pro Rodeo Association (CPRA). Engels proudly states that
“we’ve had contestants that have won and gone on to compete all the way up to the national level.”
The Junior rodeo will be held on Thursday evening, horse races can be seen Saturday morning and the ranch rodeo that afternoon. The CPRA Slack and Rodeo will be held on Sunday, featuring bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, team roping, open barrel racing, breakaway roping, bull riding, and more. The 5280 Trick & Fancy Riding Team will put in a special appearance and little ones can try mutton bustin’.
Other kid-centric activities will take place throughout the weekend. Free Saturday morning kids activities will return with stick-horse races, dunk tanks, tug-of-war, egg drops, games, etc. Free backpacks with school supplies will be distributed to participants. Also available will be pay-to-play opportunities on the Midway for kids of all ages. It will feature a climbing wall, carnival games, and a rope course from Outward Bound. And while general gate admission is free this year, thanks to a grant from the Grand Foundation, a weekend pass can be purchased for the Midway for $25.
Many other activities are on the agenda as well, including a 5K race, a new Super Horse event, fashion show, Queen’s Pageant, horseshoe contest, street dance, Buyer’s dinner, and presenting of the Pioneers and Citizens-of-the-Year awards. But of special note is the Saturday night concert with Kenton Bryant, Kremmling’s own Caitlyn Taussig, and internationally-known Country Western singer Easton Corbin. The concert is a collaboration of the Fair Board and the Kremmling Area Chamber of Commerce (KACC).
“This is really exciting,” says Chamber Director Tara Sharp. “We’ve had lots of support to make this happen and think it brings an opportunity to bring new people to the Fair and really put Kremmling on the map for those who didn’t know about us before.” Several hundred tickets have already been purchased and from people as far away as Hawaii, Iowa, Utah, and Idaho. She points out that an economic impact is being felt already in lodging reservations. Local hotels are already sold out for the night of the concert, she says, “which should also be great for local businesses, and other recreational providers as well. Hopefully, people will come for the concert, and stay for the CPRA rodeo, rafting, horseback riding, or other activities– things that concert goers might not otherwise experience.”
This sentiment is echoed by all of those involved in the excitement of this year’s fair and rodeo. “We hope the concert and some of the other activities will bring in people who don’t know much about the agricultural history of the area. We want everyone to come and see what we have to offer! It is a great way to raise awareness and generate new interest in our Western Heritage!”
More information and a complete schedule can be found online www. MiddleParkFairAndRodeo.com