Multnomah County Fair thrives at Oaks Park

See how good weather, fun attractions, and free parking and admission are working together to draw throngs of family fairgoers to this historic East Portland amusement park …

Historic Oaks Amusement Park’s Promotion Manager, Emily MacKay, welcomes visitors to the 103rd Multnomah County Fair.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Although it only lasts three days nowadays, the 103rd edition of the Multnomah County Fair will prove one of its best – and best attended – events in recent years. It now occurs over each Memorial Day weekend, at Oaks Amusement Park in Southeast Portland.

Even though the County Commissioners abandoned support of the annual Multnomah County Fair back in 1994, a nonprofit group of fair fans – “Friends of the Multnomah County Fair” – have struggled to keep this fun family tradition alive.

“The Multnomah County Fair is a wonderful event,” says Emily MacKay, Promotion Manager for Oaks Amusement Park, where the fair’s been hosted for the past three seasons.

“Friends of Multnomah County Fair” volunteer Yunie Yun welcomes visitors to the 103rd edition of this historic and family-friendly event.

“County fairs are an American tradition,” continues MacKay. “And we’re glad to provide what we think is the perfect location for it. By hosting a fair – sponsored by Bi-Mart this year – we provide residents from all over the greater metropolitan Portland area, the opportunity for wholesome, old-fashioned fun.”

High-flying local dog “Izzy” grabs the baton in this year’s “Xtreme Air Dogs” competition, while being cheered on by her master, Terry Klink, owner of Milwaukie Heating.

Fair hosts many free attractions
The rabbit show, officially judged under the auspices of the American Rabbit Breeders Association, had an overflow of participants, reports MacKay. Other attractions include a free petting zoo, the return of the Xtreme Air Dogs competition, an ongoing Guitar Hero contest, a

“Barnyard Fun” kids’ area, and the “Walk on the Wild Side” exotic animal and reptile show.

“We’re happy to see families are enjoying the holiday weekend without having to travel long distances,” notes MacKay. “And because the admission, parking, and most of the fair attractions are free, families of even modest means can enjoy a fun, memorable outing here.”

Larry Smith, Southeast Portland’s award-winning backyard gardener, shows off two of his first-place entries, “red poppy” and “salad boat bowl arrangement” – both, grown in his garden.

Hailey Lorenzana munches on some fresh pineapple, with the help of Melissa Hardy.

Bumper crop of displays
A buzz of activity takes place in the Dance Pavilion, as judges evaluate the arts, crafts, and floral displays.

“I’m amazed and pleased that we have 27 individual children’s entries in the floral and vegetable section, in addition to two adults participating,” says the division’s superintendent, Pat Swonger.

“This marks a record number of kids’ entries, as far back as I can remember,” continues Swonger. “I’m really pleased by both the quantity and quality of entries we’ve had this year. It shows a growing interest in gardening both ornamental and edible plants. We’ve had some of the best entries we’ve ever had this year; I’m very pleased with the response.”

Robert Duck, the “Chief Quacker” of “The Great American Duck Race” introduces one of his fast-swimming feathered friends.

Duck races quack kids up
A new addition to the fair this year is “The Great American Duck Race” – yes, racing ducks!

More than a novelty race, the attraction features hands-on audience participation and waterfowl education, along with topical and witty banter filled with “wise quacks” from the host, Robert Duck.

Far more than being a shady sideshow hustler, Duck (that’s his real surname) is a recognized expert. “I’ve appeared on the ‘Tonight Show’ with Johnny Carson, Pat Sajak’s variety show, and I’ve become internationally famous, thanks to my feathered friends.”

There’s nothing special about the fowl in the performance, Duck says. “But, they do need to be trained.”

And they’re off! Guest duck wranglers urge on their fowl friends.

After entering his first duck in the first New Mexico-based Great American Race 1980, Duck went on to win the next twelve years in a row – disqualifying him from further competition. “From those races, I won over $50,000 in prize money. Then, it occured to me that families might enjoy a demonstration of duck racing at fairs and special events sround the country.”

At the Multnomah County Fair’s Duck Race time – without any prodding – the ducks waddle out of their portable home the moment the tune “Disco Duck” starts playing on the public address system. Then, guest duck wranglers – kids from the audience – hold the ducks prior to the race. On the start signal, the kids let the ducks go paddling down their lanes – after which they waddle back into their homes.”

A chainsaw-wielding apprentice artist with “Toby J’s Art” in Aurora sculpts creatures from logs of raw wood. The website is

Anna Maxim gets her first pony ride, with the help of her mom, Lauren Maxim.

Park unveils new thrill ride
Before leaving, we take a look at Oaks Amusement Park’s brand-new family-oriented thrill ride, the Tilt-A-Whirl, and learn this is an updated version of a traditional American amusement park ride.

Getting a thrill riding the park’s new Tilt-A-Whirl are Joe Kinney, with his girls Amanda and Elisabeth.

This brand-new ride, built by Sellner Manufacturing Company in Minnesota, has a long history. It was invented in 1926 by Herbert W. Sellner, and he started manufacturing the ride, now widely used in amusement parks and carnivals throughout the world. The manufacturer estimates the Tilt-A-Whirl provides thrills for an estimated 70 million riders every year.

Judging from the response to this year’s event, we look forward to an even more successful 104th Multnomah County Fair next year.

Admitting that this pup will never be an “Xtreme Air Dog”, retired Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Dep. Paul H. (Mac) McRedmond – now a member of the MCSO Reserves – paws-es to tell us this fair offers a real family atmosphere.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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