The sun shone bright on the Clark County Fairgrounds on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 1973, as the fair kicked off its annual run.
“It was wall-to-wall people,” The Columbian reported, attributing the large crowd in part due to the sunny weather. “More than 20,000 people were counted through the gates.”
Those same gates will be busy again today as the Clark County Fair launches its 10-day run under what is predicted to be plentiful sunshine.
Looking back 50 years into The Columbian’s archives suggests the 1973 fair strongly resembled what’s planned for this year. Lucy Rietdyk, 19, of Ridgefield, was crowned as the 1973 fair queen. This year, Lydia Wainwright, 19, of Ridgefield, has been named as queen of the Clark County Fair Equestrian Court.
In 1973, “Children romped through the midway exploring new rides and gazing at the 4-H and FFA animals.” This year, carnival vendor Butler Amusements is offering more than 30 rides and attractions, and a livestock parade is planned for 2 p.m. today.
Back then, soft rock singer Anne Murray and “Hee-Haw” star Grandpa Jones entertained in the grandstand. This year it’s baby boom rockers Blue Oyster Cult and country star Trace Adkins.
Merchants tied into the fair then and now. In the 1973 Columbian, Vancouver’s Discount Decorating Center advertised a “Boss is at the fair” sale and discounted its inventory of shag carpeting to only $3.88 a yard. This year, McCord’s Vancouver Toyota bought an ad proclaiming it is “A proud sponsor of the Clark County Fair” and a “Proud sponsor of the monster trucks event.”
In other words, the Clark County Fair serves as a time capsule to the community’s rural, agricultural past even as it looks to entertain modern suburban audiences who increasingly live their lives online.
“Fairs across the country, and agriculture in particular in Clark County, have been facing an increasing challenge to stay relevant to their goal of educating the public on the importance of agriculture in the face of fewer family farms yearly,” Fair Manager John Morrison wrote in this year’s welcome statement. Aging volunteers, security, labor shortages and inflation are just a few of the challenges that come to mind in presenting a commercially and publicly successful fair.
So far, the Clark County Fair has been able to meet those challenges.
“Striking a balance that recognizes both the mission and the need to stay current is one that the Clark County Fair has done very well,” Morrison wrote.
More than 285,000 people attended the 2022 Clark County Fair, which is one of the five largest in Washington. (The largest is the Washington State Fair in Puyallup, which regularly attracts more than 1 million visitors and hosts the “state finals” for 4-H and other competitions.)
We love even the fair’s small traditions. According to a Columbian story from last year, “John Sullivan has overseen Sullivan’s Burger Buggy at the fair since 1973. The family-operated stand opens only for the fair and is widely known for its fresh ling cod fish and chips and ‘Man Burger’ sandwich, comprised of two meat patties, ham, cheese and fresh condiments served on a Franz bun.”
Although the fair can be found on social media, there is nothing high tech about its essence. The sights, the sounds and the smells take us back to our childhoods, and stir thoughts of generations long ago. As long as we can celebrate these traditions – and eat a fresh elephant ear – the Clark County Fair will remain an important part of our community.