Ramona Holt

Missoula County is growing and changing. But one thing has been a constant over the past 100 years: Our Fairgrounds.

The thousands of people who visited the Western Montana Fair this summer were likely reminded how vibrant, and how special, this space is.

The Fairgrounds is where our community comes together and celebrates its shared heritage. It’s busy all year long with many types of activities that attract a wide variety of people, from hockey fans and figure skaters, to 4-H and FFA kids, to those involved in numerous other community events. It’s worth preserving, and worth investing in for the future.

My own ties to the Fairgrounds stretch back 70 years, when I first became involved in the county fair. Back in the 1940s, I helped build the 4-H Kitchen there. In the 1970s, I was involved in the planning and construction of the Soroptimist Bingo Booth, and worked with long-time Missoula farmer Harvey Clouse to organize and sponsor the 4-H and FFA tractor driving contest. In 1989, I planned a Fair Parade as part of the Montana Centennial Celebration.

My four sons grew up on our ranch here in Lolo and were involved in FFA throughout their growing up, spending many hours learning, working and having fun with friends at the Fairgrounds.

Over all that time, I’ve become interested in the history of the Fairgrounds and its founding. I learned that the first fair was held in Missoula County well over 100 years ago, in 1879. A permanent Fairgrounds was established in 1911, with the Missoula County Commission pledging to “establish good buildings” for the facility and provide its “hearty support” to annual fairs.

The Fairgrounds adopted a mission to “promote agriculture, education, culture, recreation, community connection and to reflect the beautiful history of Western Montana.”

I think our Fairgrounds have done a darn good job of that, and can do even better with the support of our community. I will vote for the proposed Fairgrounds bond issue on the ballot this November, and I encourage other Missoula County voters to do the same.

Currently, the agricultural and ice programs at the Fairgrounds share space due to the limitations of the facilities. At fair time, the ice is melted on the two existing ice rinks so they can be used as animal exhibit areas. Not only does this require a lot of work and prevent year-round use of the rinks for ice sports, it’s a risk to the animals, which can slip and fall on the concrete floors.

The bonds will help fund construction of a long-planned Agricultural and Livestock arena and improved agricultural education and exhibit areas. This will better serve youth in 4-H and FFA and help those programs thrive and grow, as well as provide space for other displays and events that help preserve our county’s agricultural heritage.

Additionally, the bond issue will help fund a much-needed third sheet of ice, helping to meet the high demand for rink space in our community, and that’s good news for the 4-H and FFA programs. Instead of melting ice each summer to provide space for animal exhibits during the fair, we’ll have ice year-round and a better space for our livestock.

All of these improvements fit into the mission of our Fairgrounds: Agriculture, education, recreation, community connection. Let’s honor our history and invest in the future by making sure that our Fairgrounds lives up to its full potential. Please vote in support.

To find out more, follow this link.

Ramona Holt is a rancher from Lolo.