Last legs?

Oct 19, 2013 By Steven R. Peck

With the Wyoming State Winter Fair struggling to survive, here's a suggestion --again

It is sad news indeed that the Wyoming State Winter Fair's future is in jeopardy.

Winter Fair president John Schumacher has stated the situation plainly. A public appeal for help is going nowhere. If new volunteers don't step up immediately, the Winter Fair will cease to exist.

The fair has been a good event for Lander and Fremont County -- and Wyoming as well -- for decades. It is not affiliated with the Fremont County Fair and does not have that institution's accompanying county appropriation which can be used to hire staff. The Winter Fair runs on volunteers.

Now it is in trouble, largely for the same reason that other worthy community events can begin to wither: the lack of the next generation of leaders. When volunteers who conceive an event, organize it, run it, build it, and run it some more leave the scene, for whatever reason, the event can leave the scene as well. (The same thing happens often with small businesses too.)

The Winter Fair is falling victim to these conditions. For many years, those who worked with Winter Fair somewhat from the "inside," as our newspapers did with news coverage, printing and advertising, it seemed that the Winter Fair practically was the product and responsibility of just one person. Many times we and others wondered aloud what would happen when this person no longer wanted, or no longer was able, to carry the load.

The answer, unfortunately, might be "disappear."

A couple of times previously, we have made a suggestion for the Winter Fair. At this time of dire need, we offer it for what could be the last time.

The Wyoming State Winter Fair in Lander and the Wild West Winter Carnival in Riverton and Shoshoni ought to explore a merger.

Winter Carnival is the newer entity but the stronger one at the moment. One reason is that it devised a method of replenishing its pool of volunteers. A new WWWC king and queen are chosen each year, and they remain as members of the WWWC organizing group in perpetuity. Not all of them stay active, but enough do to ensure -- so far -- that the volunteer cupboard is never bare.

But Winter Carnival, too, has felt the strain of volunteer burnout. It seems plausible that combining the two events could bring new blood to both.

Beyond that, it would eliminate any competition the two events might be experiencing now. This is not to say there has been some kind of damaging animosity between the two, only that when Fremont County residents, visitors and businesses must make their winter recreation, entertainment and sponsorship decisions, having two events often taking place more or less at the same time, and with the same apparent theme, doesn't really help either of them.

A merger would expand the scope of activity across a wider area of the county. Events would be taking place in Lander, Riverton, Shoshoni and Boysen State Park. Neither the Fair nor the Carnival has the breadth of activities it used to. Combining forces could beef up the schedule.

It's likely that the broader scope of events and geography would attract more financial support in the form of sponsorship, which has been a Winter Carnival strength. It also would bring a large indoor venue -- Bob Carey Memorial Fieldhouse -- into the picture for WWWC, which has lacked it. Likewise, the Winter Carnival's slate of outdoor fun would supplement the largely indoor schedule offered by the Winter Fair.

Each festival has its unique offerings that could combine to form an enticing menu for spectators and participants, perhaps providing the underlying strength to expand the schedule as well. (From the newspaper angle, it sure would be fun to cover too.)

Finally, this new, larger event called the Wild West Winter Fair or the Wyoming State Winter Carnival, or something else, could be a valuable exercise in cross-county cooperation and planning which would be beneficial to both Lander and Riverton.

And it might very well save the Winter Fair while strengthening the Winter Carnival.

It's easy to sit on the outside and make suggestions to those who are working in the trenches. In our case, we have been involved through the newspaper as an event sponsor and cooperating business with both events. These observations, then, are not off-hand comments coming from out of the blue.

A Winter Fair/Winter Carnival merger has been suggested before and probably considered before as well. Perhaps obstacles to it have been revealed of sufficient difficulty to doom the prospect before now.

But with the Winter Fair on its last legs due to internal struggles, joining forces with the Winter Carnival is an idea worth exploring -- before it's too late.

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