It’s time once again for Lakefair to take over downtown Olympia, filling the lakefront with carnival rides and food booths, the streets with merrymakers and jaywalkers, and the parking spots and parking lots with lots and lots of cars.
The five-day, 56th annual festival begins Wednesday. But the work it takes to put on a festival of this magnitude goes on for most of the year, said Bob Barnes, the festival’s executive director.
And creating an event of this size takes a lot of volunteer power, which has been in short supply in recent years.
“We are getting older,” Barnes said of the Capitalarians, the group behind Lakefair. “It’s the younger people that we need. I hear that in the Rotaries and the Kiwanis and the folks in Pride. It’s a very big issue.”
“The great thing about these small-town festivals is that they are uber-local, fun and free,” said Anna Schlecht, the co-chair of Capital City Pride Festival. “But the free part does cost something. It costs a lot of volunteer time; it costs a lot of fundraising effort.
“Pride always gets volunteers, people who are willing to work during the festival and do a little bit in advance, but it’s hard to get people deeply involved. These community festivals are truly like running a small business. They take a year-round effort.”
For the past six years, Lakefair has been getting lots of help from Olympia’s Church of Living Water, which has organized about 300 volunteers to staff the event, Barnes said.
“They run the parade,” he said. “They run Kids Day. They have made Lakefair week a whole lot easier for a whole lot of people.”
But there’s a definite need to find more people who are interested in organizing the event throughout the year.
“Lakefair used to be built around the younger people, the business people,” Barnes said. “Now, the younger folks from 25 to 40 are so busy in their lives. It’s very difficult to get volunteers.
“We have some volunteers who will work a couple of hours at Lakefair time,” he said. “The amount of people and the amount of time they are willing to give is just not at the same level it was 10 years ago or 15 years ago.”
There is one younger regular volunteer, 40-year-old David Scherer Water, the man behind the Flat Win Co. and such events as the downtown ball drop and snow rave that ushered in 2012.
“There’s a joke that Bob Barnes introduces me as the future president of Lakefair,” Scherer Water said. “Not to go around democratic process, but I’m the only one involved in my age bracket.”
He isn’t worried about the event’s future, though.
“Lakefair has evolved every decade,” he said. “It needs to evolve again. There’s a constant state of collapse and rebirth with any festival. Lakefair will rise up again as something new.”