Leigh Kelley and Gary Swain

The Fairgrounds is a busy hive of activity that draws in people not just from Missoula but from throughout our county.

We should know, we make the drive into Missoula frequently to participate in all of the happenings at the Fairgrounds, and we will be supporting the Fairgrounds Bond on the Nov. 8 election ballot.

From Frenchtown to Clinton, Lolo to Condon, the Fairgrounds brings in county residents for the Western Montana Fair, Griz Hockey games, recreational skating and ice sports, 4-H and FFA activities, and more. For more than 100 years, our wider community has gathered here, enjoying the chance to get together for learning, recreation and fun.

Passing the Missoula Fairgrounds Bond will help us build on this history and open the next chapter, where the Fairgrounds is no longer bursting at its seams to meet the needs of all who want to use it, but able to accommodate it all.

We know how important this facility is to county youth who travel to the Glacier Ice rink for hockey and figure skating practice and competitions, not to mention adults who skate and compete for fun. The same is true for the 4-H and FFA kids who live in our county’s smaller communities and on area farms and ranches. Bringing their livestock to the fair and participating in activities with other youth from around the county enriches these kids’ lives and helps them develop a strong work ethic.

Annually, more than 400 4-H and FFA kids take part in more than 1,000 projects focused on agriculture, civics, technology and more. Meanwhile, the Glacier Ice Rink sees more than 110,000 visits by ice users and fans each year.  Even more people would participate in these programs, if not for the limitations of our Fairgrounds’ current facilities.

Instead of curtailing the ice season each year so 4-H and FFA youth can use the rinks to exhibit their animals during the fair, the bond will provide funds for a new agriculture and livestock arena and the addition of a third sheet of ice.

These updates will allow the ice facilities to operate year-round, providing greater access for the growing number of people who want to use them. At the same time, 4-H and FFA will finally have an appropriate place to display livestock and facilities to hold meetings and camps throughout the year.

According to 4-H and FFA, the new facility will allow it to expand its educational offerings and  serve 200 additional kids via annual summer camps. It also will allow the Fairgrounds to host district and state conferences and competitions that bring even more people into town.

The additional ice rink, meanwhile, will provide youth and adults with year-round training and recreational opportunities. Glacier Ice Rink estimates it will be able to increase participation in ice programs by 20-50 percent.

As much as Missoula County has changed in recent years, it’s refreshing to see the Fairgrounds has been a constant. It’s still a destination for people from throughout our county because it remains vital and vibrant. Let’s pass this bond and help it stay that way for the next 100 years.

Leigh Kelley, Potomac, grew up in 4-H and FFA and continues to support both programs; Gary Swain, Seeley Lake, is a former NHL hockey player and a lifelong advocate for getting youth involved with skating and hockey.