Sea lions to make splash at Clark County Fair

Other new offerings this year include toy exhibit, high-diving pirates

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

Published:

 

If you go

What: Clark County Fair.

Hours Friday: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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

Admission: Free until noon Friday. After 12 p.m.: adults, $10; seniors 62 and older, $8; kids 7-12, $7; kids 6 and younger, free; military personnel in uniform, free; parking, $6, free from 8 a.m. to noon Friday with coupon from Fred Meyer; C-Tran shuttle, $2 per person round-trip from area Park & Ride lots; children 6 and younger ride free. $1 discount on admission with a bus fare stub.

Carnival: Opens at 9 a.m. Friday.

Highlights: 99.5 The Wolf Grandstands: Night Ranger, 7 p.m. Other: Free pancake breakfast with voucher from Fred Meyer, 8 to 11 a.m. Friday.

Pets: Not permitted, except for personal service animals or those on exhibit or in competition.

Information: www.clarkcofair.com or 360-397-6180.

To follow up its highest attendance numbers in years, what can the Clark County Fair do for an encore?

Fair Director John Morrison thinks he has the answer: It involves an exhibit hall full of nostalgia-inducing toys, a tank of trained sea lions and a pirate-themed high-dive show that starts off with a man being lit on fire before he plunges into a pool of water below.

They're all elements of an equation that Morrison hopes will add up to even more people packing the fair this year after last year's version drew 269,269 visitors. Achieving that means finding room for the popular fair mainstays — farm animals and craft exhibits, food vendors and rides — along with the new features.

And as fair workers hustled to put the finishing touches on just about everything Wednesday, ahead of the gates opening on Friday, Morrison said he was pleased — and a bit frazzled — by how everything was shaping up.

"(Tuesday) was probably one of the busiest fair days I've ever had," said Morrison, who's in his fifth year as fair manager. "It has been such a different set-up than we've ever had."

In part, that's because of one of the fair's new exhibits, called Sea Lion Splash. The traveling exhibit features four trained sea lions that perform tricks and interact with the crowd. Fair organizers call it an entertaining and educational exhibit.

Because of logistics, however, it had to be moved from where it was expected to go. Instead of being next to the front gate, the exhibit will be located inside the fairgrounds, at an area fair organizers say is more conducive to seating spectators.

There's room for hundreds of people to attend one of the three daily sea lion shows, said Morrison, who expects it to be a crowd pleaser.

"These guys will put their heads on your shoulders, they'll kiss you," Morrison said of the sea lions.

All it takes is a little prodding from sea lion trainer Becky Hughes.

They flap their fins, smile, dance and — indeed, with the faint, briny scent of fish wafting off them — give people smooches.

Part of the show is dedicated to educating kids about environmental conservation, Hughes said.

"The coast of Washington has a lot of sea lions, but you can't get this close," she said. "Having kids interested in them, they end up caring more."

At the front gate, the show that replaced the sea lion exhibit is the High Diving Pirates. Featuring five divers in pirate garb, the show tells a story of mutiny, treasure and high-seas derring-do.

And, naturally, plenty of diving — including a start-of-show stunt featuring a pirate diver who will be set ablaze, said show organizer Nikki Starr. It all fits the overall narrative of the show, he said.

"This is what happens to a bad pirate," Starr said. "We blow him up. No more walking the plank. We shoot him with a cannonball."

Starr and his merry band of diving pirates aren't the only swashbucklers at the Clark County Fair. There's also Chris Biro, whose pirate-themed bird show has been a hit in the past.

This year's fair will be a return for Biro, who missed last year's fair.

His show consists of a dry-docked pirate ship and several birds. It is also dedicated to highlighting conservation issues. But there are also some laughs

That's because his birds behave like flying pickpockets. Their top trick is plucking dollar bills from people's hands.

Sometimes, Biro said, they don't even wait until the money is in sight. They'll swoop in if they see people reaching for their wallets.

A new exhibit called Toytopia also will be at the fair. It's an immersive and interactive showcase of the legacies of toys. It features everything from a giant Etch a Sketch to a playable arcade version of the video game Space Invaders.

Heidi O'Hara, director of entertainment for the fair, said the exhibit, located in South Hall, is for toy lovers of all ages.

"The whole building will be dedicated to toys and gaming this year," she said.

Ride lovers also will have a new experience this year. The fair typically unveils one new five-ticket "A-ride" each year. This year, it's a ride called The Freakout, which lifts people into the air until they're horizontal and then spins them around in their seats.

For Morrison, the fair director, the Clark County Fair is intended to be a mix of entertainment and education.

This year will be no different, Morrison said.

"The fair is supposed to highlight agricultural heritage of Clark County," he said. "There is an educational element to everything we do here."