ARLINGTON — Jason Cloudt had a trial by fire just a couple months after being named president of the Washington County Ag Society.
Actually, it was a trial by flood — when water inundated the Washington County Fairgrounds in Arlington.
Mid-March flooding filled 10 of the fairgrounds’ 11 buildings with 3 feet of water. Debris — corn stalks and leaves — hung from fencing on the fairgrounds. Mud volleyball pits were under about 5 feet of water.
Cloudt had served on the fair board for 14 years, but even with the long tenure, he couldn’t have anticipated this.
It was admittedly overwhelming.
“You take what you’re handed, but we were handed a pretty big basket,” Cloudt said.
Months later, Cloudt is upbeat as he talks about how an estimated 300 people logged approximately 1,000 hours to help restore what floodwaters ravaged and prepare the fairgrounds for the big event of the year.
Now, Cloudt and the ag society are looking forward to the Washington County Fair. The event is set for July 26-31.
Cloudt estimates 30,000 people will attend.
As in past years, a host of activities are planned. They include a concert by Tyler Farr & Rhett Atkins, rodeos, a BBQ contest, demolition derby and carnival. A tractor pull, mud volleyball, parade and pancake feed are also scheduled, along with a host of animal shows.
New this year is a Teen Zone — an area just for teens, with sand volleyball, yard dart games and places to sit and charge their phones.
“It’s a place to hang out if you’re a teenager and you don’t want to be seen on a swing or with your mom,” Cloudt said.
Volunteers, who helped with flood cleanup, will be recognized.
It’s taken a lot of work to prepare for the event this year.
Cloudt first heard about possible flooding at about 6:30 p.m. March 14 when a member of the Arlington Volunteer Fire Department said an area levee would be breached and water was headed toward the fairgrounds.
At about 8 p.m., a Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy sent a text saying water was on the grounds.
“We knew it was coming,” Cloudt said. “We didn’t know how deep it would be.”
Then an electronic shut-off to a sprinkler system, which is about 3 feet off the ground, sent an alarm at about 11:30 p.m.
The next afternoon, Cloudt and ag society members got as close as they could to the fairgrounds.
“It was pretty evident that most of the buildings had 3 feet of water or so in them,” he said. “None of the buildings had ever had water like that in them. We realized we had a lot of work to do.”
Flooded buildings included the heated and air-conditioned Rybin Community Building — which is rented throughout the year for events such as wedding receptions, graduation parties, 4-H and ag meetings.
The fairgrounds' newest structure — the Two Rivers Arena, built in 2010 — was constructed by code to be a foot above the 500-year flood plain.
That building, which is the show arena for the fair, didn’t take on any water.
By March 17, the water had receded and ag society members were able to get onto the fairgrounds.
“We started putting together a plan to have the fair,” Cloudt said.
From there, the cleanup process began.
The ag society worked with Washington County Emergency Management and Washington County Long-Term Recovery. They brought in personal protective equipment and volunteers to make sure people helping with cleanup efforts stayed safe.
Humidifiers and heaters were rented to start drying out the buildings.
All of the structures and equipment, such as tables, chairs and bleachers — everything below 3 feet — had to be power-washed and disinfected to kill germs and bacteria from the floodwaters.
“Then we started putting it back together. That was kind of the fun part,” he said.
New drywall was hung and tables and chairs put back into the buildings.
“We were pretty adamant about getting our (Rybin) community building back together. We had that back together by the end of March,” he said.
The next step was making sure the grounds were ready for the fair, which is an important event for many people.
Final touches are still taking place. A cost estimate is still being processed.
“What’s been the best part of this whole thing is seeing the community come together — the number of volunteers we’ve had come down, the folks who are contacting us who are interested in how they can help and everything from donations to labor and time and tools,” Cloudt said. “We’ve had a great outpouring of support from the community to help us.”
Cloudt and the ag society are excited to see U.S. 30 open again and hope lots of people will attend the fair.
Future plans — beyond a successful and well-attended fair — include analyzing the structures and the grounds and work on being better prepared for future natural disasters.