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Revived 4-H, and pig races, highlighted 2012 Multnomah County Fair

by: David F. Ashton, East Portland 4-H member Ruth Reneauer, who is 7, shows and tells about the chickens her group is raising.

Around the country, it's a tradition to attend the local county fair. It's been a tradition in Multnomah County since 1906.

What many don't know is the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners 'washed their hands' of the fair in 1994 - apparently hoping it would disappear, unnoticed.

But, a group of folks who say they've got 'county fair in their blood' have kept it alive.

It moved from place to place until a few years ago, when it found a home at historic, non-profit Oaks Amusement Park.

'It's been run by our organization, the Friends of Multnomah County Fair, since the County refused to operate or support it,' commented its treasurer, Lillian Adams, as the first day of the fair got underway on Saturday, May 26. The three-day fair runs over the Memorial Day weekend each year.

'I'm 88 years old,' confessed Adams, 'I started in the Fair when I was nine years old. Many of us, on our board of directors, started as 4-H people; we've been involved with the Fair all of our lives. I guess it's something that 'gets in your blood'.'

The combination of the clean, safe, and low-price family carnival atmosphere provided by Oaks Amusement Park compliments the fair, Adams said. 'This is a place and time when families can come together and have a great time. And, the County Fair probably wouldn't exist without the support of Oaks Park.'

In addition to the many fun attractions - such as the petting zoo, pony rides, pig races, floral exhibit, and the art and photography exhibitions - there was one new participant this year. Adams grinned, 'We're just thrilled to welcome back the Multnomah County 4-H members to the Fair.'

That's because Multnomah County also withdrew its support from the 4-H program. We visited with OSU 4-H Extension faculty-member for Multnomah County Maureen Hosty, who exclaimed, 'We're back! We're slowly rebuilding our program, after it was dormant for five years.'

It's back, but still without county support. Even though the program is called 'Multnomah County 4-H', the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners still does not support it. 'We have other local partners,' explained Hosty, 'including the Portland Public Schools and the Metro Regional Government. We have 12 clubs, but also have programs in 20 schools right here within Multnomah County.'

4-H isn't just about learning to farm, Hosty said. 'The value of having 4-H in society is that it provides kids with the skills and knowledge they need to become contributing members of society. The projects in which they're involved help them learn skills. It helps them develop 'head, hand, heart, and health' - which is the meaning of '4-H'.'

About her own 4-H club, Southeast Portland student Ruth Reneauer, age 7, told us, 'I really like it because we make new things, and learn about a lot of things. We raised these chickens!'

The Multnomah County Fair set attendance records on May 26, its opening day, by the way. Families roamed the ground watching the 'Alaskan Pig Races', listening to music, watching dance troupes, enjoying inexpensive 'fair food' treats - and of course, riding the amusement rides.

If you missed the Fair this year, there'll always be next year - over the Memorial Day weekend - thanks mostly to the Friends of the Multnomah County Fair, and the management of Oaks Amusement Park.

Oaks Amusement Park will be open six days a week once school's out (they're always closed Mondays). It's located just north of the foot of S.E. Spokane Street, at the Willamette River's east bank. The official address is 7805 S.E. Oaks Park Way. For more information, visit their Internet website: www.oakspark.com.