A Montana couple who used to live on the open seas charted a new course a decade ago that eventually led them to the Nez Perce County Fair.
J.C. and Hilary McDowell, of Darby, operate Young Guns Entertainment, a free, interactive Wild West fun park for kids of all ages. This is the first time their park has been featured at the fair.
“Our goal is to reach everyone and create a fun, family memory at the fair,” Hilary said Saturday morning. “We started this when our two kids were young, and now they work with us. Everything we do is family driven. We really believe ‘together is better.’ That’s our motto.”
Prior to embracing the Wild West and starting the Bandit Brewing Co. in Darby, the McDowells lived on a sailboat in the Atlantic Ocean. After the economic downturn in 2008, they moved to the coast of Mexico, and J.C. came up with a new plan that involved providing entertainment at fairs.
“You have to be creative in hard times,” Hilary, 51, said of his idea. “We’ve been together 20 years, and it’s been a wild ride. We both have very inventive spirits. I call him my renaissance man because he has so many talents. We met in Georgia and settled in Montana after we fell in love with the Bitterroot Valley.”
For the past nine years, the family has toured the Rocky Mountain States in the summer and work at their brewery when they’re not on the road. Young Guns Entertainment features a fifth-wheeler that was converted to a mobile fun park with a variety of games and activities for the whole family.
Over the years, the traveling theme park keeps evolving and new games and Western decor are added. Activities range from checkers to a homemade drum set of pots and pans. Photo opportunities with “Wanted” posters are a popular draw.
Keeping kids happy helps families enjoy fairs and stay longer, Hilary said. If the youngest members of the family melt down, the entire family may end up leaving early.
The entertainment company is hired for rural and urban events. Reaching every demographic is part of the plan, and their last gig was in Salt Lake City at the Utah State Fair.
The Nez Perce County Fairgrounds is a nice setting and has a friendly atmosphere, the McDowells agreed.
“We’re really getting good feedback here,” Hilary said, as kids in the background rode stick ponies and tried out the hula hoops under sunny skies. “This is a gorgeous fair.”
Jace Hazelwood, 17, of Lewiston, said he wasn’t sure he and his friends would enjoy the park, but the games turned out to be fun. After competing at ring toss, the teenagers gave Jenga a try.
“This is fun,” Hazelwood said. “I’m here waiting for the carnival to open. I want to be the first one on the UFO ride today.”
Another free activity that’s been attracting a long line of youngsters this weekend is the petting zoo. Goats, sheep, a donkey, horse and llama were among the farm animals soaking up the attention on Saturday.
Blaykie Johnson, the 5-year-old daughter of Brianna Johnson, of Lewiston, shyly said her favorite was the little donkey.
“I think it’s really fun for all the kids to see animals, and the interaction is really good,” her mom said. “She fed the turtle and sat with the bunnies.”
Koasie Russell, the 6-year-old daughter of Aliyah Callihan, of Lewiston, said the “horsey” was by far her favorite. Little brother, Abel, age 4, quickly nodded his head in agreement.
“I really want a horsey for my birthday,” Koasie told her mother.
“I want one, too,” Abel said.
“Oh no, it’s spreading,” Callihan said with a laugh. “Let’s go try to win a stuffed horsey at the carnival instead.”
The Nez Perce County Fair continues today from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Sandaine Lewiston Tribune Reporter (509) 552-1137 Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.