Youth programs still highlight Clark County Fair

Even though Multnomah County dumped support of its county fair – and yanked support for 4-H and similar groups – it’s easy to see why this great event, just a few miles north in Washington State, is a great place to visit this weekend …

In the Small Animal Barn at the Clark County Fair, Rebecca Tate shows off a mini-lop ear rabbit.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Even though our visit to the Clark County Fair this week was planned as a recreational trip, it accidently turned into a story with relevance to outer East Portland residents.

First, a brief history: Decades ago, the original site of the Multnomah County Fair was in Gresham, until it was moved to the Expo Center – land given to the county expressly to serve as its fairgrounds.

But, in 1993, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners voted to stop paying for a county fair. Soon thereafter, they also suspended funding that supported local 4-H and other agriculture- and farm-oriented clubs in the county, too. In light of the recent push for neighbors to grow backyard gardens, plant trees and keep animals to supplement fresh, local nutritional food sources – that was an odd choice, indeed.

Joey Bartruff, with the Rockin’ Roosters 4-H Club, shows off an old English game pullet. “I like hanging out there, learning new things and meeting new people,” he says.

Fair keeps traditions alive
Yes, at the Clark County Fair just across the Columbia River, we found a giant midway packed with exciting rides provided by the Pacific Northwest’s Butler Amusements, Inc. All kinds of “fair food” were there, as was plenty of free entertainment and acres of commercial exhibits.

Yet, what impressed us most was the focus on farm and agriculture.

The Marketing Manager for the Clark County Fair and Events Center, Matthew Ferris, says their fair is committed to keep traditional farm-oriented exhibits front and center.

“We are proud to host a regional youth livestock auction,” smiled Matt Ferris, Marketing Manager for the Clark County Fair and Events Center.

“And, we do host a lot of 4-H activities and displays here,” Ferris added. “In fact, this fair really is the highlight for the 4-H clubs throughout both southwest Washington and [now] northern Oregon. We are probably the biggest fair that has both 4-H and ‘open class’ exhibits on this level.”

Both artistically carved, and uniquely displayed, vegetables are on display from many different 4-H clubs from throughout the region.

4-H member Kamryn Hull shows off his prize goat. “I’ve been in it for nine years, so it’s much my whole life. I’ve thought about working with animals, and perhaps being a veterinarian,” he says.

The fact that Multnomah County no longer supports these youth groups, nor its volunteer-run county fair, adds to the continued success of the fair in Clark County, Ferris observed.

“With fewer places for exhibits, judging, and shows in the Pacific Northwest, the Clark County Fair has become the epicenter for a very large region.”

Food, fun and more awaits visitors

While continuing to focus on agriculture, Ferris pitched also pitched the myriad of things to see, do – and eat – at the Clark County Fair.

Taylor Holeman says she’s working in the Dairy Women booth to help support her school’s volley ball team.

Folks enjoy all kinds of attractions along one of the busy midways at the Clark County Fair.

Asked to disclose his favorite part of the fair, Ferris said, “The food! I like to stay fit and in shape, but this is my 10 days of ‘splurging’. Everyone visits the Dairy Women’s Booth – where they’ve been serving shakes and ice cream sundaes for more years than I can count – and there’s always a waiting line.”

Ferris reminded that both inside a “food pavilion”, and scattered throughout the fairgrounds, there are both “healthy” food options, and vendors of fresh fish and chips, Philly cheesesteaks, curly fries, corn dogs, and dozens of other toothsome repasts.

David Lichtenstein, performing as Leapin’ Louie Lichtenstein, the comedy rope wrangler and juggler entertains.

Brave knights of old joust, and show off other fighting skills, at the Grandstand.

“And, all of our grandstand entertainment is free,” Ferris noted. “I love that. And, we have live entertainment running all day and into the evening on two smaller stages. Other than for carnival rides, you don’t have to pay for any entertainment once you get in.”

The exhibit hall features large floral, vegetable, needlecraft, photographic, and other hobby departments. Not surprisingly, we found many “blue ribbons” tacked on to floral items presented by Southeast Portland’s première backyard farmer, Larry Smith.

These prize dahlias were put on display by Southeast Portland’s award-winning gardener, Larry Smith – who says he enjoys exhibiting at the Clark County Fair every year.

“When I show up, they call me a carpetbagger,” joked Smith, when we asked him about his entries. This is a simply wonderful fair; and it has a wider variety of interests displayed. I’ve been showing there for twenty years.”

It’s become a habit, Smith said, to “head north across the river” every August. “The exhibit directors are accommodating, as are the Master Gardeners who run the Floral Department. They make it worth the extra effort to support their departments.”

Their “firehouse” exhibit – a barn-like building filled with antique firefighting equipment, and outdoor display of working steam-powered engines are additional, free attractions, especially for “gear-heads”.

There’s still time to catch the Clark County Fair that runs through Sunday, August 14. On the weekends, they’re open until 11:00 p.m. For more information, see their official website: CLICK HERE to see it.

In the meantime, lest you forget, our own Multnomah County Fair, now completely run by private volunteers and funded by county resident contributions, will continue in its second century next Memorial Day weekend – for those three days next May – at Oaks Amusement Park on the east bank of the Willamette River, just north of the Sellwood Bridge. Just because it’s small does not mean it’s not worth your visit – or your support.

> On our front page, Mackenzie Graham with the Rockin’ Roosters 4-H Club, says she enjoys helping her community and teaching people about animals.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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