County commissioners voted last week to make the space in front of the grandstands less of a racetrack and more of a multi-functional arena.
“Our goal all along when we built the new building [Heart Mountain Hall] there [at the fairgrounds] was to ramp this up, instead of … for two weeks [it’s] used as fair and a few other events, get this where it’s really bringing events in,” Commissioner Tim French said. Overhauling the arena will “go a long way towards helping that,” French said.
As part of the first step, county crews have spent the last several days removing the 12-foot-high dirt berms — which were used for racing turns — on the north and south ends of the arena and the surrounding guardrail.
With races generally taking place only during the annual fair, the berms are “not a usable piece of space except for one week a year — and that is something we would like to get away from,” said Park County Events Coordinator Teecee Barrett.
Though last week’s commission meeting was the first public discussion on the subject, French said county officials have been discussing changes to the arena for a few months, with a group of about a half-dozen people.
Heart Mountain area resident Ed Wells put the issue on the county’s radar.
“Our whole focus on this from the start is just multi-use, multi-use, multi-use,” Wells said. “We don’t want to take anything away; we want to add to the pile of usefulness to the grounds.”
One part of the proposal is to have the arena meet Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) standards, opening up the possibility of hosting a sanctioned rodeo.
Commissioner Joe Tilden wondered aloud whether county officials were sure they wanted to make the changes.
“Obviously, at some point in time it was decided that the focus for activities down there was more towards the motorsports end of it and now we’re going back towards more livestock-oriented,” he said. “And, I’m just playing the devil’s advocate here, are we sure this is what we want to do? I mean, four years from now [are] we going to say, ‘Oh, we’re going to go back to motorsports?’”
Barrett, however, indicated the change should provide more options rather than fewer.
“Pretty much every fairgrounds has an arena, and in that arena, they host all of their activities — like the demo derby, motorsports,” she said. “Anything like that can fit within the [confines] of the arena that’s proposed.”
Cody City Council President Landon Greer participated in the earlier discussions,
representing the interests of motorsports enthusiasts. Greer said removing the berms would be a good thing. Taking out those mounds would create more flat space and the resized arena would still have room for a motocross track, he said.
“I don’t think the proposal’s going to really affect, negatively, anyway, the motocross side of things or the arenacross side of things,” said Greer. “I think it will benefit [motorsports], actually.”
The private group discussed the possibility of converting the larger horse arena in the fairgrounds’ southeast corner into a motorsports track. However, with the noise that regular motorized events would bring, “I don’t think the neighbors are going to go for that,” Greer said; noise is one of the reasons that weekly stock car races at the fairgrounds fell out of favor many years ago.
County road and bridge crews are handling the removal of the berms. They expect to haul around 250 loads of dirt to the Powell landfill, where the roughly 3,500 to 5,000 cubic yards of soil will be used as cover for trash, said Park County Project Manager Ben McDonald.
McDonald said he figures the hauling operation will cost the county $4,000-$6,000 in fuel and wear and tear on equipment, while hiring a private contractor would have cost $30,000-$45,000.
Further, depending on the price that the county can get for the metal guardrail that’s being removed, “it could potentially be a wash,” Barrett said.
Somewhere between 150 and 200 yards of dirt will be left on the grounds to be used for setting up a motocross track.
Commissioners plan to turn the area where the northern berm stood into a secure storage area for county buildings and grounds equipment. Putting up an 8-foot high chain link fence could cost around $10,000, according to one quote the county received.