Wendy Lind: In search of good dirt

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I happen to be a big dirt fanatic. Good dirt is crucial to the crops that feed us, the systems that filter our water, and the all-important bathtub ring our kids leave behind as evidence of an active day in the real world.

For many of us in the performance horse industry, training on good arena footing (dirt) is critical to our success and the welfare of our horses. But for those of you who don’t have horses and don’t like getting dirty, bear with me a moment because this also is about money.

Think of it like this: No matter how nice the lodge at the top of the mountain, you wouldn’t visit a ski area with consistently bad snow. Similarly, you wouldn’t make a practice of skating at a facility with reliably bad ice.

I mention this because the Routt County Fairgrounds has been boasting its own equivalent of crappy snow and ice for what I would guess to be eight out of every 10 days for the past six years.

This affects the many riders who rely on the facility for professional and recreational reasons, not to mention the businesses that could be financially benefiting from the ropers, reiners, barrel racers, hunter-jumpers, rodeos and gosh-knows-who-with-a-horse-else that would rent the facility if the ground wasn’t so lousy. Just like all the other visitors we cater to, these types book hotel rooms and eat at restaurants.

It’s highly frustrating to load up your expensive horses and drive to the fairgrounds only to find the arena unusable. More often than not, the arena is muddy, frozen, hard as concrete, full of sinkholes or a stunning combination of all the above. Also frustrating is having to haul to another facility hours away in search of good ground when we have a million-dollar facility in own backyard.

In reality, the Routt County Fairgrounds is a fantastic amenity that we’re lucky to have. It represents tremendous economic potential — one needs to look only as far as Rifle, Rangley and Eagle as evidence. The fairgrounds in those cities bring in venues ranging from jeep crawling and concerts to bull riding and horse shows.

Through research, the American Quarter Horse Association has developed the following equation as related to an AQHA show’s economic impact: (Actual number of horses X 2.5 people per horse = total number of people) X (actual show days + 1 move in/out day x $140 per diem = total $) = $ directly into the community. Therefore, a modestly sized two-day show with 70 horses brings in $73,000.

That’s just one example of how we could be tapping into available markets on a year-round basis if we make what we have at the fairgrounds functional, actively market what we’ve got, and work toward expansion.

Sustaining good arena footing is something facilities across the world accomplish on an everyday basis, and the people maintaining our fairgrounds aren’t going out of their way to do a bad job. They just don’t have the time, equipment or materials necessary to get the job done. That seems to be an overall theme hanging over our fairgrounds.

Here’s the complexity: The fairgrounds are owned by the county but annexed into Hayden. Thus the town, which arguably is most likely to directly benefit from the maintenance and expansion of the fairgrounds, has little control over its future growth other than land-use restrictions. In the past, there hasn’t been much buy-in on the part of the county commissioners. At a meeting several years ago, one of the commissioners went so far as to describe the indoor arena as a burden.

If that’s the sentiment, it might make sense to unload part of that managerial burden on an outside entity experienced in operating this type of facility as a business. Or offer incentive-based compensation to the current management. Right now, booking more events equates to more work for employees who already are spread too thin. Not a good incentive for growth.

What’s going on right now warrants a closer look, and with two new county commissioners, now’s the time. I understand that budgets are tight, but we can do better.

The Hayden Economic Development Commission meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hayden Town Hall. We’ll be kicking around some ideas related to the fairgrounds and all the other ways we could improve Hayden. We’d love to see you there. After all, everybody’s an expert at something, so please come enlighten us.

Wendy Lind

Hayden

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