Housing / Land Use

Heritage Foundation keeps Bolado Fairgrounds Operating Despite Cutbacks

Even before state fair funding cutbacks, the San Benito County Heritage Foundation began supporting Bolado Park

When someone goes to an event at the Bolado County Fairgrounds, whether it’s a rodeo, dog show or roller derby match, they’re probably not too concerned about the financial well-being of the facility. But fairgrounds, just like any other business, need to be solvent and make a profit to keep running and to maintain their infrastructures.  

Ticket sales can fall far short of what’s required to keep fairgrounds going. That’s why many throughout California have financial angels, called Heritage Foundations, which were organized for the sole purpose of keeping county fairgrounds operating.

Donnette Carter, CEO of the fairgrounds, said the Bolado Park facility is doing well despite recent state funding cutbacks.

“About three years ago, the governor cut fair funding and I think that spearheaded a lot of people getting more excited about supporting the fairs in California,” she said. “When you look at actual funding dollars and services that now have to be paid for, it cost this fair over $400,000 annually.”

She said the lost funding has to be made up somewhere and there was a minor reprieve.

“This year the governor has put some allocations back in,” she said. “For the last few years, we’ve received just $40,000. For the next calendar year it will be $52,000. It’s a one-time increase, this year. They are going to provide some infrastructure money, but we don’t know who’s getting it. At this point in time, we don’t know if we will get anything.”

She said all fairs in California were recently surveyed and five priority projects were put together.

“They all dealt with health and safety at the fairgrounds,” she said. “It’s a safety-first type of thing, such as lighting, water, asphalt, fire suppression. We will hear, sometime soon, if our projects are picked up to be funded. At this point, we don’t know.”

Carter said she does not know how the money is going to be divided among the state fairs. One method is equal distribution and the other is by projects.

“It’s our understanding that it is not going to be equal distribution,” she said. “There are going to be a certain number of projects at a certain number of fairs. We’re all wondering what’s going to happen. We’ve been told we’ll know by the end of the month. It could be a $50,000 project or a $350,000 project. It could be nothing.

“Overall we are doing better because of the interim events, which helps with the sustainability of the park. We’ve been very busy with everything, from picnics to family reunions to special events like the blacksmith convention, and RV rentals. We have RV groups that come in for their conferences or family events.”

She said that facility rentals have improved over the last year, going into 2016.

“Our most popular rental is the pavilion, which has undergone over $350,000 in renovations in the last year,” she said. “As we look into 2016, that building has only a handful of dates still available on Saturday nights, which is the most popular rental.”

Carter said people like to rent the pavilion for weddings, quinceañeras, proms, and animal shows.

“I’m sure the improvements of the building have been helpful,” she said.

She said the saddle horse show and rodeo has been part of Bolado Park for the last 80 years.  

“It’s a three-day event and the organizers pay facility fees,” she said. “They’re paying for facility rentals, which covers maintenance and upkeep.”

Non-profits often rent sections of the park.

“For instance, the dog show that’s held here rents part of the grass area, the patio and the pavilion, plus they have RVs,” she said. “The park is a state facility operated by the 33rd District Agricultural Association, and we also have a 501 3c non-profit, the San Benito County Heritage Foundation, that’s affiliated with the park.”

Carter said the foundation has been instrumental in funding a number of improvement projects at the park.

“They’re the ones who partially funded the renovations to the pavilion last year, and partially funded it this year,” she said. “We’ve also had improvements in partnership with the 4-H Council. It’s been fantastic the way people stepped up to help.”

Richard McAbee, president of the San Benito County Heritage Foundation, said the organization began in 2008.

“There was a group of us from Hollister that was over at the Santa Cruz fair and we saw the foundation over there and wondered why we don’t have one,” he said. “A couple of us got together and formed the foundation here.”

The foundation’s only mission, he said, is to raise money for capital improvements at the San Benito County Fairground. The foundation has 10 board members and about 180 members. Membership fees go into the pot, along with monies raised by other means.

“We get an animal donated and somebody raises it and it goes into the auction and all the proceeds go into the Heritage Foundation,” he said. “Then the 33rd District Agricultural Association comes up with projects and they present projects to the Heritage Foundation and we decide if we want to fund it or not.”

McAbee said membership gets people into the fair and the hospitality area for the week.

“It’s like a fair social in the Heritage room, a members-only kind of deal,” he said.

It’s primarily the board that does the fundraising. McAbee said founding member Mike Enz goes out after the bigger money.

“He got $250,000 pledges from four different families at $50,000 each over a five-year period,” he said. Bob Bianchi pledged us five years ago, but he said we had to get matching funds, so Mike went to work make that happen. Two years ago, he got the three other families.”

Randy and Rebecca Wolf and Devcon Construction, along with an anonymous donor, also donated $50,000 a year.

“We’ve done a pretty good job compared to other foundations,” he said.

For information on how to donate to the Heritage Foundation or find out how to join, go to: http://www.sbcheritagefoundation.com/.


John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]