Lifelong Routt County rancher Linda Long is a firm believer that county fairs bring people and families together. Ever since her grandparents introduced her to the Routt County Fair when she was a young girl, she understood the annual gatherings could unite generations.
Long has worked her entire life to keep fairs bringing generations and families together. Last weekend, her work was recognized by others in the Colorado county fair community when she was named "Fair Person of the Year."
Long, 58, has attended almost every Routt County Fair since she was born. She has been a fair superintendent for more than 30 years, she's been on the Fair Board for almost 15 years, and she has been a fair judge at county fairs across the Western Slope for more than 20 years.
In 1991, she began attending meetings of the Colorado Association of Fairs and Shows, and she joined its board in 1994 as one of two members who promote county fairs in Colorado north of Interstate 70 and west of Interstate 25.
"We promote and do whatever we can to keep these fairs alive and well," Long said. "We lend a helping hand to keep the fairs going in the direction they need to go in."
For the past four years, Long has been nominated for Fair Person of Year. But, because she sits on the committee that sifts through the nominations, she said she has thrown out her nomination ballot for three years. This year, however, others on the committee snuck a nomination past her, and she was given the honor.
"I thought I knew what I was doing," Long joked. "I thought I had it under control. So, it was quite a surprise. It's so nice to be recognized by your peers. I really thank them."
The Fair Person of the Year is selected from a list of nominations from every Colorado county that hosts a fair, in recognition of that person's contributions to his or her fair.
"We are very fortunate in this county to have someone like Linda working to make things better for the Routt County Fair," Routt County Fair Coordinator Terry Dougherty said. "She has built an incredibly efficient program with the Exhibit Hall and helped raise funds to build a kitchen in there. She just makes things happen."
Perhaps one of the reasons Long is so dedicated to events at the Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall is that she and five generations of her family have entered and received grand champion awards for clothing, canning, crafts, baked products, flowers, needlework, embroidery, quilting, vegetables and crops.
"Each and every ribbon holds a special memory of family, hard work and accomplishment. It's part of our ranching heritage and we want to pass that heritage on to a sixth generation," Long said in "Faster Horses, Younger Women and Older Whiskey," a recent book about the history of the Routt County Fair.
The Routt County Fair is known statewide for having a large number of exhibits, Dougherty said. While some counties host 300 exhibits, the Routt County Fair has received more than 1,300 in some years.
"That's incredible for a small county fair, and an incredible statement about the commitment and the heritage of the community here," Dougherty said.
Next year, Routt County will celebrate the 90th Annual Routt County Fair, scheduled for Aug. 14 to 22.
"The fair is family," Long said. "It brings out the family and unites generations. It's going to keep generations coming."
Long said she was dedicated to working with county fairs because of a passion for helping youth: "That's the main reason I'm involved. It makes it all worth while to help keep them on the right track."
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