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Fairgrounds on track to open for rodeo season

A Dickinson State University rodeo is the first event scheduled at the new Stark County Fairgrounds on May 5 and 6. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press1 / 2
A Dickinson State University rodeo is the first event scheduled at the new Stark County Fairgrounds on May 5 and 6. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press2 / 2

The Stark County Fairgrounds are currently slated to be completed by April 19.

After a preliminary walk-through on Wednesday, Stark County Fair Board President Lee Ann Karsky said the grounds should be ready for the first event of the season—Dickinson State University's rodeo on May 5 and 6.

"There were no major kinds of changes, so I think we will be good for getting going here by May, first part of May for the college rodeo," said Arnie Binek, a fair board member and chairman of the county park board.

On April 12, fair board members will do another walk-through with Scull Construction to check out the site. If they find anything needing work, the fair board will list them for the construction company in hopes of a final, complete check on April 19. At that point, the fair board hopes to sign off on the construction contract and take the keys to the fairgrounds.

During Wednesday's preliminary walk-through of the grounds with the construction company, Karsky said she only saw a few minor touch ups that needed some work, such as paint, trim work and some missing panels that the company is waiting on.

"There's some lawn seeding, grass seeding, a few trees to plant yet, but that's stuff that's not going to stop a rodeo," she said.

At the fair board's meeting last Thursday, Stark County Road Superintendent Al Heiser voiced his concerns about drainage on the grounds and in the arena after he visited the site earlier this year. But Karsky noted that after seeing the site after the rain on Tuesday evening, drainage no longer seemed to be an issue.

"Now that they're getting the final grading down, you couldn't even tell that it had rained," she said. "And that ground, you know it's pretty saturated from over the winter, and for it to suck up all that rain water was wonderful."

After decades of planning and work on the fairgrounds, the construction was originally supposed to be completed last fall, Karsky said. But with winter coming, the fair board decided it would be better to have the project done right rather than rushed.

All told, the project cost about $5 million, much of which was paid for by the sale of land owned by the fair board and county park board. The grandstands can hold 2,500 people, and the two sets of portable stands can hold about 550 people each.

Contestants will use the north entrance to the grounds on 40th Street while the main entrance will be used for all other visitors. Both entrances are on North Dakota Highway 22.

At a meeting last week, the fair board discussed security options for the grounds. The board will need to decide whether they want security primarily against vandalism or liability protection — which would require cameras to better identify people, Karsky said. She hopes the board will finalize a decision on that at their next meeting on April 26.

Later in May, the smaller arena will also be available for public use. The board has not yet decided exactly what the rate to use that arena will be, but Karsky said right now they are thinking about charging $10 to $20 per rider, though that person could bring and ride multiple horses. Before using the arena, riders will need to sign a liability waiver and use the fair's website to block out the time they intend to use the premises. The website is in the works, though not yet completed.

In addition, other events include high school rodeos, which will hold an event on Memorial Day, May 29. Lisa Heiser, the secretary for the Northwest Barrel Racing Association, said at the meeting that she plans to hold 18 to 20 barrel racing events for the summer and into the fall, averaging about one a week. After the walk-through on April 12, she intends to begin scheduling events beginning in early May.

Al Heiser emphasized the importance of the grounds being used.

"One thing about this whole thing out there, the public needs to see that their money is being used—it needs to be used," Al said at the meeting. "We want people to think, 'God dang it, I drove by the fairgrounds, and there's something going on there again.'"

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