Okanogan County Fair rodeo, racetrack get facelifts


Looking southwest across the new arena provides a view of the new bucking chutes and announcer’s stand. Mike Maltais/QCH

A new metal railing around the inside of the racetrack provides added safety.

Permanent set sprinklers will provide ease of watering of arena grounds.

OKANOGAN – The RV spots at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds on 175 Rodeo Trail Road were near capacity last weekend with the opening day of the fair only days away on Thursday, Sept. 5. Those familiar with the layout and facilities of the grounds will notice a few changes this year, notably a new rodeo arena and white inside railing along the racetrack.
With new posts, metal tubular panels and bucking shoots the rodeo arena has been reoriented for more efficient stock handling. The chutes positioned on the south end of the arena face north with the announcer’s stand at the southwest corner to allow an unobstructed view from the west side grandstands.
Fair Advisory Committee and Rodeo Director Sam Buchert designed the arena layout and oversaw its construction. Buchert and volunteers like North 40 Outfitters, Doug Ralston, Chantz Popelier and Mike Buchert handled the actual construction.
Working on behalf of the Okanogan County Commissioners, District 2 Commissioner Andy Hover wrote and submitted a $100,000 grant to the USDA for fairground safety improvements.
“With the way risk is growing it was getting hard to even let people ride on the track knowing it was in such bad shape,” Hover said.
After receiving input from several quarters including Buchert on the arena and Carol Sivak on the racetrack, Hover applied for a second $100,000 grant for replacing the arena and racetrack surfaces.
“It was a lot bigger expense then we planned for in the first grant,” Hover said.
The original funding plan called for pooling funds from the Lumbermen’s Trust and Okanogan Valley Boots and Saddles Club to put up the required 50 percent matching funds.
“We only got one for $80,000,” Hover said.
“The good news was when the commissioners looked at the budget for the capital facilities plan, the north end of the fairgrounds was already listed in it,” Hover said.
The commissioners used capital facilities funds to match the grant to resurface the grounds, leaving the trust and Boots and Saddles funds for future projects.
The Okanogan Valley Team Penners put up the funds to upgrade the sound system.
“The crew that works the fairgrounds did the water,” said Buchert of the post-high sprinkler system with heads spaced about 50 feet apart to provide grounds watering at the turn of a valve. “It is all permanent sets.”
“The county road crew did the dirt work,” said Buchert. “This consisted of leveling, removing rock, compacting and hauling in 12 inches of new dirt.”
“We are really grateful to the maintenance and public works staff,” said Hover. “Public works got the rail installed in three days; I thought it would take a month. Maintenance worked tirelessly to get the water and power infrastructure in place.”
Hover estimates project cost for the completed arena and track upgrade was between $150,000 and $175,000, of which $80,000 was grant money.
The Professional Western Rodeo Association (Pro-West) will return to the Fair this year as part of its 20-plus competition circuit. Last year members voted the Okanogan County Fair as its Rodeo of the Year award winner. Competitors will find much improved facilities this year as they near the finals of their five-month tour later this month.
“There will also be a high school and junior high rodeo the last weekend of October,” said Buchert. “If this goes well, which we anticipate it will, we will have the high school state rodeo finals here in the spring. We also anticipate a couple junior rodeos during the year.”
The Horse Nations Indian Races will use the racetrack on both Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 7-8, Sivak said. Winners from the Saturday races will compete in the Sunday championships. The winner will advance to the Horse Nations Championships in Walla Walla near the end of September.
Arena advertising signs will help raise funds for facilities maintenance and improvement.
“I was able to sell about 15 advertising signs for the arena,” said Buchert. “There’s plenty of room for more advertising. The cost is $225 annually for the sign to be up and around $300 initially to have the sign made.
Hover is working with Boots and Saddles members on a future horse barn design and hopes to eventually fund covered grandstands on the east side of the arena.
 

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