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Fairground ready for rodeo

After more than three decades, the Stark County Fairground is ready for rodeo season. The keys to the grounds were officially handed over to the county fair board on Wednesday, concluding the $5 million project. "As far as a rodeo, you could have...

The Stark County Fairground is now completed and ready for the summer season. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press
The Stark County Fairground is now completed and ready for the summer season. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press

After more than three decades, the Stark County Fairground is ready for rodeo season.

The keys to the grounds were officially handed over to the county fair board on Wednesday, concluding the $5 million project.

"As far as a rodeo, you could have the rodeo tomorrow," said Lee Ann Karsky, fair board president. "Now it's just the little details, you know, cleaning and touchup paint here and caulking this, things like that."

The grounds are located on North Dakota Highway 22 south of town and north of the airport-the contestant entrance is at the intersection with 40th Street Southwest and the main entrance is a few hundred yards farther south. There will be a temporary sign in the coming weeks.

The grounds have two arenas-a main one and a practice one. There are about 3,500 seats for spectators, a concession stand, grilling area, ticket booth and two bathrooms exclusively for those with disabilities. Portable toilets will be rented for events because of the high cost of bathroom installation. There will be two or three ATMs as well.

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Ultimately, the project has been in the works for quite some time, spanning all the way back to 1985. In that year, the county park board purchased property for the intended fairgrounds near what is now CHI St. Alexius Hospital, Karsky said.

About $30,000 was spent designing the fairgrounds around that time. But there was talk of having motocross on the grounds as well, something the city objected to because the location was in town, Karsky said. The park board sat on the land for about 10 to 15 years, unable to sell it, said Arnie Binek, a fair board member and chairman of the county park board.

But things began to change in Dickinson as the area began developing, so the county began selling pieces of the land - eventually selling off enough to make some money, Binek said. These funds went back to the park board for future developments of the fair grounds.

The county's fair board was organized in 2001, and the park board gave it 60 acres on the west business loop, property the fair board was planning construction on, Karsky said. But with the oil activity, the county opted to sell the land off making another nice profit to pocket for later plans.

In 2014, the park board bought the land the newly constructed fairground now sits on.

"I've been involved in this since '85, and that's back and forth and up and down," Binek said. "The thing about it is, before that we just didn't have the money."

The park board only had a couple mills, which generated anywhere from $60,000 to $80,000 a year, he said. The county also knew the residents would not support a bond issue - taxpayers farther away from the Dickinson area probably would have voted against it, he said. The city also did not, and has not, contributed to the project.

But the money from the land sales years ago was able to pay for both the land and the construction of the fairgrounds.

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"This is paid for. There's no bonds, there's no loans, no nothing," Karsky said.

Eventually, Karsky and Binek hope to build more buildings on the 90-acre grounds, but the county will probably need help from the city before that is able to happen, Binek said. The next move would be to build an exhibition building for 4-H clubs, meetings and small events, Karsky said. They would also like to see an indoor arena built sometime in the future, so people can ride year-round.

"The big thing is we got it done," Binek said. "We got this far, and the rest of it, we'll see, we'll see how people like it. I think they're going to like it. I think it's going to be a positive."

The fair board is working on having a well and water system installed on the grounds in the coming weeks in addition to the water from Southwest Water. The grounds will only receive about a household's worth of water currently, so they want to ensure there is enough water for the livestock during summer events as well as for water trucks for the ring and surrounding area to keep the dust down.

The fair board is still working on the system people can use to rent the practice arena for private use, Karsky said, but they hope to have a system in place in mid-May. The fairgrounds' website should be up and running in the coming weeks with an online reservation system for the space. As of right now, it will probably cost between $10-$20 per rider for a day, she said.

During Roughrider Days, the rodeo, demolition derby and concert will be held at the fairground. The carnival will be held at Dickinson State University and the fireworks will still be lit in town, Karsky said. Best Friends Mentoring will have their Art in the Park event at DSU as well, and the speedway races will be at the race track.

4-H horse shows will take place in both arenas at the fairground, but the livestock show will be held in DSU's indoor arena and the Biesiot Activities Center will host static events - since the new fairground does not have buildings. Down the line when other structures are added, all 4-H events will be moved to the fairgrounds.

Ultimately, they just want to see it used. DSU has their first rodeo on May 5 and 6, and there will be a high school rodeo on Memorial Day, May 29. There will also be a "fun day of barrel racing" on April 28 so people can try out the new facility, said Al Heiser, Stark County's road superintendent. Subsequent barrel races will be held on May 10, May 17 and May 31 to kick off the summer season as well.

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"This is something for the community, this was built for the community and we want them to enjoy it," Karsky said. "We put a lot of love into this thing."

Related Topics: STARK COUNTY
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