Pincher Creek and District Agricultural Society has been an integral part of community life since its inception almost a century ago, but with a decrease in government funding, the non-profit charity is struggling to keep its head above water.
As vice-president Hilary Matheson explained, low revenue means the group cannot go forward with its largest infrastructure project.
The society has been vying for a decade to have the roof over the ag grounds pavilion replaced. It’s been damaged by hail on three occasions in the past 20 years and patches of sunlight leak through.
It’s now “at risk of falling,” Matheson said. “That’s how degraded the roof is becoming.”
Matheson appeared before Pincher Creek town council on Dec. 13 to voice her concerns and request funding from the municipality.
In the early 2000s, grant money from the provincial government covered 81 per cent of the society’s operating costs, said Matheson, but with government cuts, it only covers 19 per cent today.
The society still receives casino revenue, $20,000, which can be put towards the project, but it’s only distributed every two to three years.
“We’re sort of at one of those desperation points with it,” said Matheson.
“The ag society is not a huge moneymaker. We are a business, we run as a business, but we are a society and therefore we don’t keep profits.”
Matheson said town and MD councils both allocated $5,000 for roof repair years ago, but added the ag society has not accepted the money yet because they would like to see more funding set aside, as the society is still short by about $26,000.
The cost for a basic roof is $131,482.00.
Town council did not make a decision on the matter and promised to revisit the issue early in the new year.
Matheson also used the opportunity to bring attention to a separate issue, involving the dog park, which is situated on a section of land the ag society leases from the town.
Traffic on its land has increased with the addition of the dog park, she said, which has led to unintended consequences.
“It’s invited a ton of people to that end of town. We’ve had graffiti, we’ve had vandalism that’s unbelievable. We’ve never had vandalism there before,” she said, adding that the pavilion was vandalized this past summer and the bridge vandalized last month.
She estimated that 100 people go to the dog park daily, sometimes more in the summer, and said not everyone picks up after their dogs, leaving ag staff with the responsibility of cleaning up.
She said this would not be as much of an issue if dog owners were to keep their pets within the boundaries of the park, but many allow their dogs free range of the entire ag grounds, leading to garbage and excrement strewn across the space.
She proposed that council place signage on the grounds so users know where the boundaries of the dog park begin and end, and suggested that council advertise through the town Facebook page to get the message across.
Council has not made a decision yet, but Coun. David Green said he understood her frustration.
“It contains a significant archeological site. It contains significant geology. It contains significant biodiversity and you’re right — it’s getting worn down,” he said.
Coun. Sahra Nodge sympathized with Matheson over dog-horse conflicts that have become more frequent since the addition of the park.
“I was really surprised when I moved back to Pincher, that that area had been designated a dog park. It seemed really inconsistent, with the animals and the horses and the ecological space,” she said. “I’ve definitely witnessed dog-horse interactions that haven’t been positive.”
Matheson said the ag society attempted to circumvent the issue by closing access to the grounds while events were taking place, but this didn’t go over as well as she hoped.
“We took quite a bit of verbal abuse last summer when we locked the gates for a few days for our events,” she said. “Literally millions of dollars worth of horses in there.”
Better signage, she said, might help keep dogs out of horse spaces and prevent unpleasant altercations.
Gillian Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze