With the current downturn in the economy, one way to bring more people and dollars to the North Fork is through the Delta County Fairgrounds.
Plans for improvements at the county-owned facility, located in Hotchkiss, could bring both recreational and financial benefits to the North Fork area, and to the county. The facility is home to numerous agriculture events and a handful of concerts and celebrations, but the main event is the annual Delta County Fair and Rodeo, which this year will celebrate its 111th year.
"We know that this is a tremendous asset," said Delta County administrator Robbie LeValley. The county sees the facility as one piece of a big puzzle that is creating economic diversity in the area. At the request of the Board of County Commissioners, the Fairgrounds Utilization Committee has met monthly since November. Committee members represent Delta County, the Delta County Fair Board, the three North Fork communities, Hotchkiss FFA and 4-H organizations, the Delta County School District, Delta County Economic Development, The Conservation Center, The Nature Connection and the Hotchkiss Area Chamber of Commerce.
A 2010 fairgrounds master plan identifies both short-and long-term goals for the facility. Its mission statement calls for showcasing the youth and community and increasing local events and users, and promoting local art and industry.
"We would love to see more events at the fairgrounds," said Hotchkiss Mayor Wendell Koontz. He points to the 2004 North Fork Valley Bluegrass Festival as an example of what could be. Improving and marketing the facility, which includes the 6,500 square foot Heritage Hall, a covered events center, playground and park, outdoor arena and grandstands, public baseball fields and the Doctor Charles Maloney Nature Park, can help promote Hotchkiss and the Hotchkiss brand.
The facility has seen a lot of recent activity. Last August, the North Fork Creative Coalition held "Celebrate the Fork," highlighting music, arts and agriculture in the area. This year, the first Farm to Fiddle Festival is planned to coincide with the Delta County Fair in early August. The event will be held downtown and is designed "to complement the events at the fair and to attract a wider audience for both events."
Upgrades to Heritage Hall, where quilt shows, fundraisers and last year's sale from the estate of Joe Cocker were held, could create more business and recreation opportunities, said Koontz. Among the ideas being considered is the booming online gaming industry.
Projects identified in the master plan that have already been completed include an increase of the overall size of the facility through the purchase of the adjacent Maloney property and residence, improved access via Highway 92, and construction of a bathroom/shower facility at Heritage Hall. In 2014, a two-acre agricultural crop demonstration plot was established.
Long-term plans call for making the existing baseball complex part of the Crossroads Park and Sports Complex at Hotchkiss High School and converting the area to a campground.
More long-term goals include upgrades to equestrian facilities and electrical system and construction of an exercise/fitness circuit. A proposed pedestrian bridge over the North Fork of the Gunnison River would provide access for boaters and connect to a system of trails proposed in the town's 2013 Sidewalks and Trails Plan, which is now part of the town's master plan. Once electrical upgrades are complete, there are plans to build a permanent stage, said LeValley. Best uses for the 2,000-square-foot Maloney residence are also being considered.
At least three projects are slated for completion this year, said Levalley. The utilization committee has already designated a wooded area for an 18-hole disc golf course, and will meet this week to identify the best location for the horseshoe pits. A portable power station will allow for more flexibility in the types of events that can be held at the facility.
The facility is available for bookings, and a fairground handbook provides general information, rates and guidelines. To download a copy of the handbook, visit www.deltacounty.com/255/Fairgounds.