State Fair staff excited for first fair under new director

DOUGLAS — The excitement shows on everyone’s face in the Wyoming State Fair main office. A new vibe permeates the room, with open door policies readily apparent (hey, all the individual office doors were wide open). 

And the ideas for new events (at least at the WSF) and year-round changes were being tossed around the office like ping pong balls tossed at glass plates. Some stuck easily, some bounced around until landing on the floor, and some floated in the air waiting for someone to pick up the metaphorical ball and run with it. 

“We have some work to do to make it the best fair ever, but we know it’s not going to happen overnight,” WSF Manager Courtney Conkle said. 

Conkle, planning her first fair as the new director, and her relatively new staff are also working on bringing in new sponsorships and have put a bid out for a new marketing firm that would take care of advertising, logo, events, theme development, web design and social media. 

“We’re looking for the right group,” Conkle said. “We aren’t just the state fair which is 10 days in August. We have beautiful grounds that should be used year round.” 

Since taking over the fair manager position in September, Conkle has already been some changes to not only make money but to bring in new events and have the facilities open for local residents. 

“We started a punch card program for the Ford Pavilion building,” she said. “One card is for hourly rides and maxes out at 10 hours. We also have a producer’s card which is a three-day card, and will enable for profit events guaranteed use of the facilities at least three times per season.” 

Conkle explained the pavilion can be used to bring in equine events, so the card would give the sponsor or producer full access to the facility. 

“The hourly card is great if you want to ride your horse for a short time,” she said. “You just punch the time on the card that you use until you fill your 10 hours.” 

Free open rides are also available Mondays and Wednesdays from 4-8 p.m. 

As for the long-term vision for the fairgrounds, Conkle and the fair board are awaiting the master plan to be released next month, something that the fair board, the state and former interim Fair Manager Dan Cheney had been working on for the past year. 

The master plan, developed by Markin and Associates which specializes in fairgrounds projects, will play a large part in getting the state fair – and the fairgrounds – profitable again. 

“This will strengthen the facilities that we have and bring in more events,” Conkle said. “There’s a lot we can do to help the local economy thrive, but we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work.” 

The master plan will include all of the facilities and their usability, building a better state fair, pricing changes and how to bring events and people to the fairgrounds year round, she said. 

As for the 2020 Wyoming State Fair, the calendar is already filling up. Some changes are already taking shape, and other ideas are in the works – all with the hope of expanding the draw from five days back to the full week-plus it was in the past. The new director shared some thoughts, but kept others private for the moment. 

“The fair will be Aug. 11- 15 but we have plans in place for the weekend before fair,” Conkle confirmed. 

The “kick-off weekend,” as she likes to call it, will start with ranch rodeo Friday and Saturday, and Conkle would like to build it as a stand-alone event that will bring people to Douglas before the fair and keep them here during the fair. 

“We are working on having a BBQ competition that weekend,” she said. “We’ve had a local Rotarian approach us about organizing and running the competition. It would be another fun event to help kick start the fair.” 

The carnival will be moved back to the large grassy area just east of the Pioneer Museum, where it used to be a number of years ago before being moved to the parking lot behind the grandstands. 

“We want to build something huge and memorable for the state fair,” she said. “We are working on bringing free entertainment to every area of the grounds – family friendly entertainment for all ages.” 

The fair will continue to have the pig wrestling, Octane Addictions, a concert on Thursday, PRCA Rodeo Friday and the incredibly popular demolition derby will continue to close out the fair on Saturday. 

“We want to make each day of the fair full of fun events and experiences that you don’t get normally,” she promised. “We are working and planning on having the 2020 state fair the best party of the summer.”