WEATHERFORD -- The new Farm and Ranch area is set to open at the city's First Monday Trade Days grounds, allowing animal sales to again be part of the monthly market.
The sales will resume March 1, more than five years after they were stopped because of concerns about the animals' health.
"The local community, vendors and First Monday staff are very excited," said Karen King, the market's recreation coordinator.
First Monday Trade Days, a popular tourist attraction, is one of the oldest open-air markets in the state, started in the late 1800s so local farmers, ranchers and merchants could buy and sell goods. The grounds are open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the first Monday of each month.
Goats, sheep, pigs, dogs and other animals had been sold at the market, but in summer 2006 vendors were notified that animal sales would not be allowed beginning with the new fiscal year. The city had received numerous complaints about animals' conditions, but specifically that dogs bought at the event were later found to be unhealthy.
In fall 2010, the City Council authorized funding to bring animals back to Trade Days in a responsible manner. The goals were twofold: first to create an area with adequate shade, ventilation and fresh water for animals while on-site; and second to create a special event area for additional activities and attractions on Trade Days weekend and every other day of the year.
In fiscal 2011, $850,000 was budgeted to buy land and build the animal lot. In fiscal 2012, $400,000 was budgeted for the second phase of the project and additional land acquisition.
Assistant City Manager Sharon Hayes said that realistically it could take six years to complete the entire renovation project, known as Heritage Park, provided funding is available.
"We're heading in a good direction," Hayes said. "It's taken us time to get going on it, but I think you will see everything else happen pretty fast."
Livestock vendors will be charged the same as all general merchandise vendors: a weekend rate of $30 per space and $10 per day for electricity; or a daily rate of $15 per space and $10 per day for electricity.
Don Johnston, 75, who has had a space at the market for more than 50 years, said he believes that resuming livestock sales will be beneficial.
"I really believe this will help, but it depends on how they operate it," said Johnston, who sold horses, mules, goats and tack. "All they need to do is take up the money and leave the people alone."
He said he enjoyed seeing the children that otherwise may never have a chance to see some of the animals brought to the grounds.
"It's a great thing; you have a lot of people come, and anytime you have a lot of people come to town that means money for the merchants," he said. "It can't be run like a 7-Eleven. I don't think the city has ever realized that."
Mike Tackett, another longtime livestock vendor, said he's not coming back. He used to sell horses and tack there.
"I think it's a great deal, but some of their regulations and stuff I don't think will go over," Tackett said. "I was going to go back, but now you have to have so much stuff on the animals for that market, and it's the only market in the area you have to have it for, so I'm not going to return."
Raymond Clayton a longtime vendor who sells tools and has sold goats, said the loss of animals had hurt interest.
"It was like a zoo, an attraction, and I feel very definite that the loss of the animals cut down on the crowd," Clayton said. "It's a good thing they're bringing back the animals."
Lance Winter, 817-594-9902