Fair still true to agricultural roots

2011 edition will feature traditional, unique animal events

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



If you go

What: Clark County Fair.

When: Aug. 5-14.

Where: 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.

Hours: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Aug. 5; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Aug. 6 and 12-13; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Aug. 7-11 and Aug. 14.

Cost: Fair admission is $10 for adults, $8 seniors, $7 children 7-12, free for kids younger than 7.

Information: http://clarkcofair.com or call 360-397-6180.


July 25, 1868: “Clarke County Fair” founded to promote local agriculture and mechanical advancements. It was held on Oct. 21, 1868, in Esther Short Park.

1910: Name changed to “Harvest Show,” featuring a stump-burning demonstration. Name changed again in 1914 to the “Columbia River Interstate Fair” and in 1915 to the “Clarke County Fair and Dahlia Show.”

1916 to 1927: Fair canceled because B.J. Bagley bought the land for use as a dairy farm.

1925: Washington Legislature passed an act to remove the “e” from the end of Clark in Clark County. The “e” had spread from a typo on documents in the 1860s.

1928: Fair resumed and moved to Battle Ground. One highlight: a “Maggie” contest to see who could throw a rolling pin farthest.

1930 to 1940: Fair canceled in favor of other smaller regional fairs.

1941: Fair Association bought a permanent site in Battle Ground. It was held on Sept. 11-13, then promptly canceled again in 1942 because of World War II.

1946: Fair relaunched at McLoughlin Heights. About 12,000 people attended.

1947: Fair merged with the Battle Ground Community Fair.

1955: Fair moved to a 20-acre property north of Vancouver deeded by William Wineberg; first time at today’s fairgrounds.

1957: Livestock Building becomes first structure on the new site.

1959: Dairy Women’s booth is constructed. That year there were 200 dairy farms in the county.

1961: Attendance reaches 26,935.

1968: At the 100-year anniversary, the site bought and expanded into 23 acres of adjacent property.

1972: A chapel designed by Rev. Palmer Hanson is added. The site expanded again, leasing 80 acres through the Department of National Resources.

1973: Attendance grows to 106,000.

1977: Attendance grows to 189,140.

1982: Clark County Fair voted top fair out of all 83 fairs in Washington.

1983: A land swap between the Department of Natural Resources and the county expands the grounds by another 80 acres.

1989: Fair changes its name to the “Centennial Fair” for one year, in honor of the Washington State Centennial.

1995: Fair Board approves $61.7 million plan for fairground improvements.

2002: Construction starts on an 18,000-seat amphitheater, which was finished and opened on July 10, 2003.

2010: Attendance estimated at 260,000.

Sources: Clark County Fair History, published by Friends of the Clark County Fair in 2005; The Columbian

Llamas really don’t mind playing dress up with their owners.

Back when she was a kid in the 4-H youth organization, Becky Meats remembers seeing the lanky creatures in all sorts of funky costumes.

Llamas dressed as cowboys and Indians, a llama and its owner dressed as Little Bo Peep and her rather tall sheep, a llama dressed in a coat and tie to escort his handler and her fancy dress to the prom — yup, Meats has seen all of them.

Visitors to the Clark County Fair this year can see them, too. Kids from 4-H will be dressing up with their llamas and showing them off on Aug. 6 at 6:30 p.m. for the Llama Costume Class event.

Who knows, there might even be a Harry Potter llama this time around, or even a Dalai llama, said Meats, who’s the 4-H representative for the fair.

“It’s limitless as to what they can do,” Meats said. “Llamas are very willing to do a lot of things. There’s even a llama public relations class, where 4-Hers train them to go into nursing homes and schools. They don’t spook easily.”

The 4-H and other agriculture and animal events are sometimes overlooked by fair attendees who are more interested in carnival rides and kettle corn, but they can be just as fun, if not more so — and they present an opportunity for visitors to learn more about the natural world.

“Kids don’t really have big farms anymore, but it’s still really important that they know about agriculture,” said John Morrison, manager and CEO of the fair. “It’s important to the economy, to education. You get kids out there that don’t know where milk comes from. You ask them and they say ‘from the store.’”

Agriculture was the main event at the first fair, not surprising considering that the bulk of the county was made up of small farms and dairies.

That year, awards went to “M. Shea for best trotting horse,” “Miss Ella Stoughton for a lamp mat,” and “Mr. Tolley for his huge squash,” according to a pamphlet on Clark County Fair history.

Over the years, the fair has had a slew of oddball contests on par with this year’s sharp-dressed llamas.

In 1910, a stump-burning demonstration took the stage. In 1928, organizers held a “Maggie” contest to see which woman could throw a rolling pin farthest. In 1968, the fair included a beard-growing contest.

This year’s fair has so many funky events it’s hard to list them all — especially if you head toward the 4-H and Future Farmers of America areas.

“We’re also having a chicken dress-up contest and a rooster-crowing contest,” Meats said. “The kids get really excited about the dress-up contests. They’re very creative, and they have fun finding costumes that are appropriate for their animals.”

From what she’s seen, it’s a bit more difficult to convince a chicken to put on some fancy clothing than it is to convince a llama.

“They kind of have to practice a bit first,” Meats said. “For chickens, it’s usually small items, like you put a hat or a little bow tie on them.”

Goats — yes, they dress up too — and llamas are a bit more even tempered, she said.

“Most people think of llamas as animals that spit, but they only spit when they’re mistreated or irritated,” Meats said. “They’re actually very calm otherwise.”

If you want to get up and close with a llama, though, she does have some handy advice.

“Come up from the front so they can see you,” Meats said. “They don’t like people sneaking up on them. Also, they like having their neck or shoulder petted, but they don’t like you to touch their heads.”

Beyond the dress up, llamas, goats and other creatures at the fair will also partake in obstacle courses to show off their pack animal abilities.

Other 4-H events include pigeon herdsmanship, a cat costume contest and events for young beekeepers.

“So many people today come to the fair for the rides and the food court, but there’s so much more to check out here,” Morrison said. “I don’t think you can really even see it all in the time that we’re open.”