Flap over Eagle fairgrounds | VailDaily.com

Flap over Eagle fairgrounds

Kathy Heicher
Eagle Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE, Colorado ” Eagle County’s equestrian community is concerned that allowing new activities in the pavilion at the Eagle County Fairgrounds could seriously cut down on the amount of time they get to use the facility.

Barrel racers, riding teachers and Little Britches rodeo parents attended a county commissioner work session Tuesday to voice their concern about being edged out of the facility.

“Our kids need this facility to ride in. That is their life,” said Eagle resident Dele Hobbs.

County officials, concerned that the $4.5 million facility built several years ago is under-used, are mulling the possibility of allowing the Western Eagle County Metro Recreation District to use the indoor arena for winter sports leagues and sports camps.

“The compelling factor is the number of youth that can be served,” said County Commissioner Sara Fisher, citing preliminary figures that suggested the rec district would increase the number of people using the facility tenfold.

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County officials also want to increase revenues at the facility “which doesn’t even come close to paying for itself,” Fisher said.

The utility bills alone for the pavilion during the first three months of this year were over $11,000.

Winter bookings at the facility have been put on hold while the county determines just how the facility will be used.

Representatives of the rec district were not at the meeting. However, in a follow-up interview, director Steve Russell said he the county asked him last year to see if the rec district wanted to use the facility. The rec district drew up a schedule estimating some 3,000 people would use the facility in the winter.

Currently, the rec district runs its winter sports programs in local gymnasiums. There is plenty of demand from rec district clients for indoor sports programs, he says.

“We’re just standing by to see if the county wants an alternative program in there,” he said.

The floor, however, make sharing the pavilion complicated. Rec district activities would require a hard floor. The equestrian crowd needs packed dirt. Constantly changing the floor would be expensive.

Brush Creek resident Terri Gold said other communities, such as Moab, Utah, have figured out how to share indoor arenas. Still, she noted that equestrians, like any kind of athlete, need to be able to train constantly.

“We know we have to share. There is a little bit of give and take. Equine people are willing to give up a few days,” she said.

Kelly Womboldt, who organizes Little Britches rodeos, said those events can bring in thousands of dollars in revenue to the community in a single weekend.

“People come from all over. We want to do more rodeos this winter,” she said. She voiced concern that the rec district activities would tie up the facility from December through March.

“Our tax collars are going to the facility. We would like to use it. Rodeo is my kids’ only sport,” she said.

Minturn resident Randy Milhoan urged the commissioners to give the equestrian group more time to develop uses for the facility. He said the fairgrounds facility is dedicated to the spirit of the county’s Western heritage.

“It’s the best equestrian center between Denver and Salt Lake City. It brings revenue to the community … they need more time to get this up and going,” he said.

The county commissioners pointed out that the equestrian community has the facility booked on most days ” often for prices as low as $20 per day, for relatively small groups of people.

“We’re trying to make this more equitable to the local community,” Fisher said.

The county commissioners will schedule a work session with representatives from both the rec district and the equestrian community.

The rec district, meanwhile, is contemplating building a field house in Edwards in the near future.

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