Volunteers help Thurston County Fair thrive with fewer public dollars

The Thurston County Fair will open its gates Wednesday.

And after years of budget woes — including fears that the fair might have to shut down for good due to a decline in revenue since 2008 and major cuts in county support — the five-day event is expected to stay afloat thanks to new partnerships and a host of volunteers, officials say.

“There won’t be any cuts, and we’ve been able to stretch our money, and through the Herculean efforts of the Fair Board, the Fair Foundation and a ton of volunteers we’ve been able to grow the fair this year,” said Scott Clark, director of the Thurston County’s Planning and Resource Stewardship Department.

The Thurston County Fair requested $105,000 from the county’s general fund in 2014, which is the same amount that it received last year, Clark said.

“We’ve got two staff out there that keep the doors open, and we have a maintenance person,” he said. “But by and large the rest of the operation is volunteer.”

One of the fair’s biggest partners is the 176th Engineering Company of the 741st Engineering Battalion of the Washington National Guard. Its members took on many building maintenance and repair projects at the fairgrounds, Clark said.

Scout groups, 4-H clubs and other organizations have pitched in to prepare for the fair, too, according to Thurston County Manager Cliff Moore.

“Historically, the fair community is one of the best volunteer communities I’ve ever worked with,” Moore said. “Friends and family members and people who have loved the fair for years come out. ... There’s a lot of cleaning up and painting and fixing up fences and getting animal pens ready.”

This year’s event will offer many of its longtime favorites, including carnival games and rides every day, the Thurston County Commissioners pancake breakfast from 8:30-10 a.m. Saturday, and the annual 4-H Equine Western Games on Sunday.

Other events include:

•  Savor South Sound, which will offer tastings from a dozen cider makers, breweries and wineries and food grower and producers from 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

•  A tattoo art contest where local artists will compete for cash prizes on Saturday.

•  A Rescue Pet Roundup from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday in the Hicks Lake Barn.

As long as there’s sunny weather to bring out the crowds, the fair usually does well financially during its annual run, Clark said.

But officials are trying to increase the fair’s revenues during the other 11 months of the year, he said.

For example, the county is trying to promote facility rentals at the fairgrounds for conferences, weddings and other special events.

“I encourage musicians and other artisans and local brewers to start looking for excuses to hold events out there,” Clark said.