Good weather, and bad economy, boosts County Fair attendance

… At least on opening day! Even though our County Commissioners want NOTHING to do with it, see how volunteers and Oaks Amusement Park are keeping this century-old tradition going …

Haylie Graham, visiting Multnomah County Fair from Troutdale, has fun feeding the sheep at the free petting zoo.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
With gas prices shooting past $4 a gallon, many folks decided to have a “day-vacation” close to home, during the Memorial Day weekend. Folks even came out and had fun, sometimes dodging raindrops on the last two days of the event.

“We’re thrilled that we can provide a place for families to go,” said Mary Beth Coffey, Senior Manager of historic Oaks Amusement Park. “We’re seeing a very high turnout this year.”

In the Oregon Dairy Women booth is Heidi Larson, the 2008 Dairy Princess Ambassador; and, Deanna Lenire, 2008 Columbia County Dairy Ambassador serving the thousands of folks coming to the Multnomah County Fair.

In times of economic uncertainty, Coffey said, the amusement park and County Fair make a great combination. “With free parking, and free admission to the park and the fair, it’s a great value. And, there are a lot of free activities: Humphreys Farmyard Frolics are back, with their magic shows and activities for kids; so is the petting zoo.”

As we walked through the park, we find some other traditional County Fair activities.

Pat Swonger, superintendent of the Floral Department holds her cup for which she won the “Best Tea Cup” award; fair helper and consummate backyard gardener, Larry Smith, shows off one of his entries “Best of Fair Herbs”.

Craft and produce exhibits flourish
In the Dance Pavilion, handcrafts, homemade foods, and plants were judged and put on display.

Pat Swonger, superintendent of the Floral Department, said she was surprised by this year’s large number of entries. “There were hundreds, even though we’ve had a peculiar spring so far.”

Perennial entrant, and winner of ribbons at all of the area fairs, Larry Smith, had items on display and also helped with the setup. “This year’s weather has been odd. Just after I finished planting my radishes, it snowed,” he commented.

ARBA certified rabbit judge George Germaine is evaluating an English lop-ear. “Obviously, the breed is known for its large ears.”

Bunnies on parade
Although cows and chickens weren’t judged at the fair, a substantial rabbit show, sanctioned by the American Rabbit Breeders Association, was underway when we visited on opening day.

“This is a ‘Double Crown’ event,” explained the rabbit show manager, Miriam Keyes. “This means each of the 300 rabbits is judged twice, by two different ARBA-certified judges.”

One of judges, George Germaine, traveled from Vader, Washington, to participate in the show. “The rabbits I see today are excellent,” remarked Germaine. “For a small show, there’s a lot of really nice rabbits here today. The good thing about a spring show is, because it’s been cooler, the rabbits have kept their coats, and they’re really in good condition.”

The Wiener Dog Races have become a favorite at the fair.

This year’s canine events expanded to include Fly-Ball, in which dogs demonstrate their agility and speed. And, how fast can a “wiener dog” run? Wiener Dog races were held several times during each of the three days of the fair.

Food and shopping opportunities abound
“In addition to all of the free entertainment for both kids and adults,” Coffey said, “we’re thrilled to have 61 vendors here this year.”

They’re being turned into ‘Toons! Hailey and Hanna Tolson get immortalized by caricature artist Mike Morley.

As we walked the midway, we could smell the savory foods of many nationalities and styles wafting through the air. Unlike some other fairs, the prices were reasonable – and several folks said the quality of the food exceeded their expectations.

As the unforecast sun shined on opening day, the line at the Oregon Dairy Women’s booth grew with folks lined up for ice cream treats. “Coming to fairs is our way of thanking people for buying Oregon-produced dairy foods,” explained Heidi Larson, 2008 Dairy Princess Ambassador.

In the amusement park, this little “easy rider” is Jadyn Smith – she traveled all the way from Hillsboro to attend the fair, her parents say.

If you missed it this year, circle Memorial Day weekend on your 2009 calendar, for the annual return of the volunteer-operated, nonprofit, Oaks-Park based Multnomah County Fair.

But, even without the fair, Oaks Amusement Park is a great family destination throughout the summer.

“Oaks Park has been making family fun for 103 years – it’s everybody’s park,” Coffey smiled.

OK, it wasn’t all sunshine and blue sky. The clouds opened up and it rained quite a bit on Sunday and Memorial Day! Still, many families came to visit.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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