River pollution hasn't impacted San Juan County Fair attendance

Dan Schwartz The Daily Times
The Daily Times

MCGEE PARK — The toxic mine waste that gushed into local rivers last week hasn't kept area residents from going to the San Juan County Fair, many visitors said Thursday.

"We're getting by," Taryn Shepardson said while sitting at a picnic table.

She and Megan Rants, sitting across from her, each bought about 10 cases of bottled water after a plume of toxic mine waste burst from the Gold King Mine on Aug. 5, rushed down Cement Creek and flowed into the Animas River and eventually the San Juan River.

Rants said her family has to use less water now because the Animas Valley Land and Water Co., in Crouch Mesa, has imposed water restrictions.

"I can't even take my bath," said her 6-year-old daughter, Sydney Rants.

Megan Rants said the family's situation isn't so bad that they'd miss the fair because of it.

An average of 92,000 people attend the fair over the course of the week each year, director Billy Huish said. That rate climbed by 20 percent in 2011 and 2012, and it dropped 12 percent in 2014, he said. It fluctuates without much reason, he said.

Many vendors and families have been part of the fair for decades, he said. For them, it is a tradition — and the pollution in the Animas and San Juan rivers won't change that, he said.

The fair is in its 131st year.

"I think a lot of people are scared," said Marcos Marquez, who was selling plastic swords, bows and assault rifles to children from his booth.

They haven't been so scared that his sales at the fair have suffered, he said. But his business outside the fair — Jump-n-Fun — has, he said. Aztec's decision to impose water restrictions prevented him from filling his dunk tank, and it's cost him other business, too, he said.

Henry Casaus was selling plastic rifles also and inflatable Dora the Explorer dolls several booths down, and he said the river contamination hasn't impacted attendance or his sales.

What stands out to him is how much people support the fair, he said.

"I think there's quite a bit of people that showed up," he said.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and dschwartz@daily-times.com. Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.