County responds to handicap needs at fairgrounds

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Joe Wilson of Clovis said he refused to let his wheelchair stop him from attending the Curry County Fair with his grandchildren this year.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

This year, nothing will make Joe Wilson happier than to join a brigade of handicap residents with walkers, canes and wheelchairs in line at the Curry County Fair’s ticket booths.

After his wheelchair led him to skip the fair last year for the first time in more than 40 years, Wilson said he was compelled to do something about it.

And now, in collaboration with county officials, Wilson’s experience and his desire to continue his attendance, have set changes in motion that should make the 2009 fair more inviting, not just to the able bodied, but to handicapped as well.

“When you get in a wheelchair, it’s a whole other world,” he said.

Mired by the dirt, sand and gravel that line the entrances and separate sidewalk paths from the food court, Wilson said in 2007, he found the difficulty of just navigating from the entrances to the food court overwhelming and exhausting and chose to sit out the 2008 county fair.

But forced to depend on a wheelchair due to debilitating arthritis, the more the 66-year-old retiree thought about it, the more he realized he didn’t want to stop attending the fair.

“I thought, ‘dang it, I am going to the fair this year, but they got to do something,” he said.

“It takes a lot for me to get fed up because I’m a laid back type of person. I usually just sit back and let everybody else gripe.”

But attending the fair every year was a tradition the Clovis native said he started as a high school junior. And, one that he shared with his children and grandchildren.

So, he decided it wasn’t something he was willing to let go.

Last week, Wilson said he contacted County Manager Lance Pyle and expressed his concerns about accessibility problems for handicapped fair patrons.

Not sure what to expect, Wilson said he was surprised when Pyle was very friendly and immediately arranged a meeting between himself, Wilson, the county maintenance supervisor and fair management so that he could show them what the issues were.

Wilson said through the meeting, they discovered the fairground’s chip-sealed walkways were actually covered in loose gravel and decided to sweep them clear to expose the hard surface beneath. It will make a tremendous difference to anyone with a wheel chair, walker or cane, Wilson said.

“I wasn’t asking for nothing fancy, just a hard surface,” he said, and it turns out it was there all along.

Pyle said he was glad Wilson contacted him.

Last year, additional handicap parking spaces were added and the county has always been concerned about accommodating special needs, Pyle said.

But Pyle also said the county was unaware there were accessibility issues because until Wilson, no one had mentioned it.

Several measures are being taken to improve handicap accessibility at the fairgrounds thanks to Wilson’s suggestions and the county is happy to do it, he said.

“The county fair that we put on, it’s for the community and we’re going to do everything possible to make sure that people (who) want to go out there and enjoy that event, can go out there,” Pyle said.

“We are addressing those (accessibility) issues and we appreciate his assist in bringing those to our attention… If we have to go out with the golf cart and bring him in, we’ll do what ever we have to.”

Wilson said in his excitement, he shared the news with friends who have challenges similar to his own and discovered he wasn’t the only one who had stopped going to the fair.

A woman who relies on a walker to remain mobile told him she had not been in five years because of the poor accessibility, but was thrilled and looking forward to returning this year.

The fair is more than just a tradition to a lot of people, Wilson said, explaining for him, it is an opportunity to gather and see old friends and acquaintances and visit casually, catching up on each other’s lives.

Wilson’s once again looking forward to resuming the tradition with the grandkids, who are already excited, “because they know Papa Joe’s going to buy them something there. And he’s also looking forward to having some cotton candy, “if they’ll share with me,” he said with a laugh.