Economic hard times became the fuel to a fire that ignited in the hearts of hundreds of Thurston County Fair volunteers this season.
It was just months ago that the county feared the fair would close its doors for good because revenue had continued to spiral down since 2008, and the fair lost the county’s annual contribution of more than $100,000 from the general fund.
The fairgrounds, which run on a $30,000-per-month budget during the offseason to cover basic costs of payroll and utilities, has traditionally taken in the bulk of its budget during the five days of the fair, as well as through facility rentals.
But in December, several staff, including the fair’s longtime manager, were laid off. Fair coordination duties were taken over by a board member being paid on a six-week contract. Several county departments assumed different roles for fair preparation.
And all that will culminate in the Thurston County Fair opening Wednesday. County staff and fair volunteers say they now have high hopes for the event’s future.
That future will depend on what direction the fair board decides to go to make it economically self-sufficient. A number of ideas surfaced during various visioning meetings since last year, including building a closed horse arena and a larger stage for musical performances.
The fair already has expanded this year by increasing its musical acts, as well as adding wine, beer and cider sampling during the Savor South Sound event Thursday through Saturday.
With an abundance of new ideas in the works, volunteers have recently narrowed their focus to make sure this year’s fair goes off without a hitch.
Vicki Powers, the leader of Flying Hoofs equestrian group, was hanging flower baskets outside the horse stalls Tuesday to get things ready for opening day.
She climbed a ladder with baskets in hand as her young granddaughter, Vannah, handed up hooks.
“Can you reach that high?” Powers asked Vannah, who was dressed in a brown pair of cowboy boots, yellow pants and pink jacket covered with brown horses.
“On my tippy toes I can,” Vannah said, extending her hand over her head.
Up the hill from the horse barns is the Deschutes Grange food stand, where volunteers were preparing to feed the crowds.
Ten-year volunteer Gracie Sudano of Yelm has seen the fair struggle and is happy to be opening up again this year for the kids.
The fair “is some place for them to work with their animals,” Sudano said. “It teaches them responsibility and community. … They work their little tails off.”
There are more than 1,000 4-H and FFA members signed up to show projects during this year’s fair. The cattle barn is completely filled with a larger number of dairy cows on show than in the past.
“These young people range from first grade to high school,” said Cliff Moore, interim county manager. “It’s the annual culminating event to show what they learned, how that individual takes on the responsibility and learns through doing.”
Fair board member and contracted fair coordinator Theresa Reid grew up with the fair and remembers how much it helped her overcome her youthful shyness.
“I did demonstrations, or public speaking, that make me now able to speak in public like I do,” Reid said.
THURSTON COUNTY FAIR
Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday
Location: 3054 Carpenter Road SE, Lacey
Admission: Tickets at the gate are $7 for adults, $6 for ages 60 and older, $5 for ages 6-14, free for children 5 and younger. Today is One Buck Wednesday; admission is $1 per person with a donation to the Thurston County Food Bank. Thursday is Kids Day; admission is $2 for children 14 and younger. Friday is Military Appreciation Day; admission is $2 for active and retired military with ID.
More information: 360-786-5453 or co.thurston.wa.us/fair.Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 firstname.lastname@example.org