Western Montana Fair expects larger crowds with free entry; safe - KFBB.com News, Sports and Weather

Western Montana Fair expects larger crowds with free entry; safety emphasized

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MISSOULA -

Fairs are a staple of summertime and on Tuesday, the Western Montana Fair officially began over at the Missoula Fairgrounds. This year, it's free to get into! 

Fair officials hope that with free admission, more people will come to the fair and those people will be more willing to spend money on fair food, rides, and arena events.

This year, there's more of everything in preparation for larger crowds. Fair vendors have stocked up on food, and carnival prizes. Security is being amped up, and even trash pickups have increased. 

Fairgrounds Director Emily Bentley says over $1 million has exchanged hands in previous years, which means the fair broke even. This year the goal is no different.

"It is a visionary approach. We're really changing the playing field to make the fair accessible to everybody in our community. We feel like it's a Missoula value," says Bentley.

With more people attending the fair, there is added emphasis on safety, especially after a county fair ride malfunctioned in Ohio and took the life of 18-year-old Tyler Jarrell.

Since then, several fair ride accidents and malfunctions have been reported across the country, raising questions about whether they are really safe.

Montana is one of only a few states with no state regulations on carnival rides. However, there is a risk and benefits crew at the Western Montana Fair that monitors everything the fair is doing, whether things are dangerous and putting people at risk.  

Western Montana Fair uses Northstar Amusements, which also does the fair in Helena and Kalispell. Fair officials have reviewed their safety records and are confident people will be safe when they go on rides.

"We've worked with them for many years and they own all their rides. They don't sub-contract for any of their rides so they know how they work and we feel confident in their ability to provide safely."

Bentley says safety is the number 1 priority, always. 

They've also been working with local law enforcement on fairground security and the fire department has examined the grounds, and the buildings.

Free admission isn't the only new thing at this years fair.

The fairgrounds is in the middle of a major renovation, the first one in 100 years. This year, fair-goers will experience a new sound stage, green space and beer garden, as well as more acts. Some of those acts include fair favorites like acrobats, stilt walkers and a magic show.  

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