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Demolition derby nixed at 2024 La Plata County Fair

Rising liability concerns mean the event will not happen at the fairgrounds next year
Drivers compete in the 2023 Demolition Derby on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, at the La Plata County Fair. The event is unlikely to take place next year after county commissioners decided it was too large a liability. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Like a battered engine coming to a quiet standstill, so too ended a yearslong conversation on the annual demolition derby held during the La Plata County Fair.

The verdict?

The derby may no longer be held in the mixed-use rodeo arena at the fairgrounds, meaning that the fair’s largest source of income is unlikely to take place next year.

During the county commissioners’ weekly discussion meeting Wednesday, County Manager Chuck Stevens said that he and Commissioner Marsha Porter-Norton had informed the fair board on Sept. 21 that the county had decided it was not willing to assume the liability risk.

Although the question of whether the rodeo arena was the best location for the derby has persisted for over a decade, a 2021 request from the fair board that the county allow 16 and 17-year-old drivers to participate in the derby amplified questions of liability.

La Plata County does not organize the fair or the demolition derby, but it does own the fairgrounds, which are rented by the county fair board for the event.

In 2021 and 2022, county staff began to intensify their considerations of whether the rodeo arena was a suitable site for the demolition derby. The primary concerns were a lack of adequate protection from flying parts that may be discharged from vehicles upon impact, as well as hazards to livestock that could be left in the arena.

“We didn’t get a definitive answer about (the question) is this arena … suitable for this type of event,” Stevens said.

The event did take place this year with some additional protective measures.

At the Sept. 21 meeting, the fair board requested that it be given the remainder of the calendar year to find someone qualified to assess the arena and propose solutions – something for which the county’s risk manager searched extensively. The board also asked that the county compensate the fair for the lost revenue if the derby does not happen.

In their meeting Wednesday, commissioners indicated that they were not interested in continuing the debate.

“We want a successful fair – this is not about that,” Porter-Norton said. “What we really have in front of us, that we have had for a long time, is the risk tolerance of La Plata County for having these dual uses.”

Although proponents of the event cite its unmarred track record, Porter-Norton pointed out that insurers look at future risk, not just past performance.

The demolition derby at the La Plata County Fair is the fair’s largest single source of income, bringing in an estimated $30,000 this year. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Charlie Scalva, the head of facilities for the fair board, said in an interview with The Durango Herald that he has already found someone able to do the evaluation. But county officials reiterated Wednesday that they are prepared to move on.

Commissioner Matt Salka, the newly appointed liaison to the fair board, hinted that a more appropriate venue for the derby could be included in future plans for the fair grounds. The county’s liability insurance provider has requested changes to the arena that would preclude it from being used for other purposes, Salka said.

“Let's formulate that vision for the future,” he said, emphasizing his support for the 4H families and the culture fostered by the fair.

Given a recent decision not to spend upward of $80 million to move the fairgrounds to Durango Mesa Park, Salka said the county will be looking to invest in the current site. A planning process will take place next year, at which time the public will be invited to give input.

In the meantime, the board is concerned that the absence of the demo derby could jeopardize the fair’s future.

“If we don't have the derby, it's going to cost us,” said Board President Amy Peterson. “We'll be fine to have a fair next year, but I don't know if we can have a fair the following year because we won't have enough money to do it.”

Drivers battle it out during the demolition derby at the 2021 La Plata County Fair. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

She estimated that the ticket sales and revenue from concessions brought in approximately $30,000 this year.

In response to the fair board’s request that the county compensate them for any lost revenue, the BOCC took a “wait-and-see” approach.

“Let’s assess, when that time comes, a decision on funding,” Salka said.

Until a master plan is developed, he expressed a desire to work with members of the public to use the existing facilities to generate other revenue.


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