Jessica Morford’s children — Kash, Elizabeth and Breanna — show pigs, goats and sheep through 4-H at the Canyon County Fair.
It’s for more than the variety: Her children show different species so they can have separate pens at the crowded Caldwell fairgrounds.
“With the existing one, there’s no more room to grow, so if (children) take multiple animals in the same species, then they’re housed together,” Morford said. “They’re crammed into a 4-by-4 pen. ... It’s a safety hazard, not only for the kids but also for the animals. I’d rather our animals just stay home.”
Morford, who lives in Nyssa, Ore., is among a number of 4-H and FFA parents upset by the Canyon County Commission’s recent decision not to move the fair to a roomier spot near Nampa.
The parents say they’re concerned about the limitations the existing site puts on both their children and their animals. While the commissioners recognize that frustration, they say they have little choice — there is simply no money for the move.
Morford herself is a third-generation 4-H member. “There’s no way we can survive another five to seven years on the grounds,” she said.
Some families either don’t or can’t use the workaround her children do, instead housing pigs and goats in the same pen. If the animals are not generally housed together at home, they will fight, Morford said.
Janet Anderson, of Nampa, also has children who show animals in 4-H. Because the barn is so packed, she said, her children also show animals at the Western Idaho Fair.
She fears the existing fair property is a health hazard.
“We don’t want fundraising possibilities to be tabled,” Anderson said. “There’s too many kids that would be like to be involved, but the dust and heat is not really a healthy environment.”
Decision made, debate continues
When the commissioners announced in February they would keep the fair at its Caldwell location, they also relieved all seven Canyon County Fair Board members of their duties, inviting them to reapply among any new applicants. Former Fair Director Rosalie Cope is no longer employed by the county, though officials would not confirm whether she resigned or was terminated.
The siting decision has been a topic of contention for years.
In 2009, the county bought an 80-acre property north of Nampa, near Prescott Lane and U.S. 20/26, that would have offered significantly more space for the fair. The county paid roughly $1.54 million for the property. The first construction phase — infrastructure, parking, an exhibition hall — was estimated to need $12 million more.
Currently, the fair uses about 28 acres near Blaine Street and 21st Avenue, with railroad tracks separating a parking area from the rest of the site. (Union Pacific says 15 to 20 trains run through the area every day.) Though the Canyon County Fair dates to 1887, the first fair building on the existing Caldwell property was built in 1981.
Canyon County owns less than 2 of the acres, according to county spokesman Joe Decker. The O’Connor Field House, Charolais Barn and the rodeo arena, which are all used during the fair, are owned by the city of Caldwell.
The only spot owned by the county is the footprint where the livestock building sits, explained former fair board member Curt Krantz. He was in his 11th year on the board when the commissioners cleared its membership, and Krantz was a board member when the Nampa property was purchased. He was disappointed by the choice not to move the fair and said he does not plan to reapply for his old seat.
After the land purchase, the commissioners agreed to allow the fair board to start a capital campaign to raise private funds for new fairground facilities.
The campaign raised no money, despite Canyon County’s investment of $300,000 for the consultant who would help with the donations.
Krantz is also board president of the Idaho Agricultural Foundation, formed in 2011 to handle those donations. He said the foundation had received some pledges and a donated building, but money for construction costs was still needed for the fair to be able to move.
He did not disclose who made the financial pledges but estimated that their value, along with the donated building, would have totaled about $1 million.
That’s more than county commissioners were ever told about, Commissioner Tom Dale said.
A past attempt at a bond election for fairground expansion failed, and Dale said the commission will not raise property taxes just to move the fair. So commissioners made the only decision they felt they could.
“The important thing is that this board of county commissioners is committed to the fair (while) accepting the reality that we don’t have funds,” Dale said.
Dale said the commission felt the “best way” to clear the path and move forward was to start fresh with new fair board members. Some of the former members have applied to return to their seats, he said.
“They made it sound like we were running rogue,” Krantz said about the commission’s take on the fair board. “Tom Dale has been adamantly opposed to it all along.”
After the siting decision, Morford started a Facebook page promoting the Idaho Agricultural Foundation. “Save the Canyon County Fair Expansion” has several hundred members discussing Canyon County’s budget, the commission’s motives and whether someone friendly to the move should run for the next open commissioner’s seat.
Morford said she knows more people will be vocal about the fair with commissioners now, attending meetings and actively drawing attention to Canyon County’s needs.
“I don’t know if the fair will ever get moved,” Krantz said. “I would hope it would, but it’s going to take a lot of people getting involved and a lot more people being vocal about it.”
Dale said he has spoken with multiple 4-H parents and made efforts to explain the financial issues involved.
Meanwhile, the county’s current property will see some renovations before the fair begins this summer. Four new fans have been installed in the fair building, some doors will be replaced and there will also be some painting projects.
“The bottom line is there is no money to move the fair. Period,” Dale said.