The North Idaho Fair & Rodeo opened Wednesday morning with a striking new entryway and plaza that pays tribute to a century and a half of Kootenai County history, from mining and logging through present-day tourism that drives the local economy.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter spoke at a dedication ceremony and, like many others have, stumbled over the pronunciation of sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary.
“It’s important that we look back … because we stand on the shoulders of all those folks the last 150 years that provided the leadership for the county, that provided the future, that provided the entrepreneurship, that provided the opportunities,” Otter told a crowd of more than 100 at the Heritage Tribute Plaza.
“You folks went through kind of an arduous beginning,” the governor said, noting the county’s somewhat chaotic first 50 years.
Kootenai County was established Dec. 22, 1864 – 26 years before Idaho became a state – and originally extended from the southern end of Lake Pend Oreille north to Canada. It doubled in size three years later, was abolished for a month in 1905, split in half two years after that, and arrived at its current shape in 1915 following three county seat changes.
The new north gate of the fairgrounds along Government Way invites visitors to stroll through a monument that recognizes the industries and amenities on which Kootenai County has grown. It includes artwork that showcases logging and forest regeneration, mining and miners, recreation on the lake, and agriculture, by artists Teresa McHugh, Dale Young and Allen Dodge.
At the center of the plaza sits a rendition of a new county seal designed by North Idaho College graphic design graduate Jamie Marble. She incorporated the Cataldo Mission, Lake Coeur d’Alene, a pickax and saw, trees and an eagle into her design.
It was a challenge to pack a variety of symbols into the design, Marble said. “That’s what actually made it more fun. It went through a lot of revisions,” she said.
The new main entry replaces a dated, bland gate and provides “a new face to a facility that is continuing to evolve as an event center for the community,” fairgrounds manager Dane Dugan said.
The county Board of Commissioners dedicated $15,000 for the new monument.
“I think it’s spectacular,” board Chairman Todd Tondee said. “I think this plaza is going to be a great gathering place for citizens. It just starts conversations.”
Idaho Forest Group and ACI Northwest, both based in Coeur d’Alene, are the primary sponsors of the new entrance and plaza.
“We feel that the fairgrounds is the hub of our community,” said Alan Harper, resource manager of Idaho Forest Group, which operates five mills in North Idaho.
The sesquicentennial celebration continued Wednesday night with a headline concert by country singer-songwriter Dustin Lynch and a fireworks display.