by: File photo It's about Fair time!-Columbia County Fair & Rodeo kicks off five days of thrilling rides, tasty food and old-fashioned fun.

The Columbia County Fair begins its 96th year today, and considering the turbulent economy of the last few years this is a milestone to celebrate.

Even more celebration-worthy is the very real likelihood the fair will live to see its centennial celebration and beyond.

The fair's future had been touch-and-go over the last few months. Funding from multiple sources started to collapse, including contributions from Columbia County and state government. This is also the third year the fair has been devoid of contributions from the Columbia Meadows concerts. In some years those concerts provided as much as $40,000 in ticket sale revenue to the fair, a figure that trickled down to $20,000 or so as the recession became fully engaged. Now it's zero.

Granted, the fair will be changed from what we've come to expect over the last dozen-plus years. Instead of having a full-time fair administrator who is at the ready to answer inquiries about the pavillion or facility rentals, there will instead be a part-time administrator who will work from January through the fair.

After benefits are factored in, the full-time fair administrator was receiving in the neighborhood of $90,000 annually, which is a huge draw on a fair that brings in roughly $200,000 each year.

With the loss of the administrator we could expect a drop off in rental revenue, though rentals have never been the operational mainstay for the 75-acre fairgrounds - that has been the fair itself, which we've been assured is a self-sustaining operation once the full-time administrative position has been deleted. Marketing efforts for the fair we could also expect to decline, and it's worth noting the fair has had consistent upward momentum in gate sales the last few years.

There are considerable bright spots and opportunities with the new arrangement, however. First, we understand a new panel is being formed that will serve at the pleasure of the fair board for the purpose of helping organize the fair and filling in some of the gaps created with the departure of the fair administrator. The fair also has a dedicated group of capable, veteran volunteers who, more than anyone else, form its operational backbone.

As revenue situations present themselves, we would also like to see the Columbia County Fair Board explore more sophisticated marketing and advertising ventures aimed at drawing more outside - and ideally overnight - visits to Columbia County.

Other possibilities include separating the fair and the hugely popular rodeo into two separate events - perhaps holding the rodeo in September to create a separate draw to the county outside of the fair's presence.

We would also like to encourage active discussions about the location of the fairgrounds to determine if it is the best long-term position for the fair to prosper and thrive. It's probably safe to say it is not, though the range of possibilities to re-locate the fair to a place more visible to Highway 30 - as was once the case - have not been explored. Are there possibilities at the former Trojan plant grounds, for instance? Or other locations between here and Clatskanie? Maybe, maybe not. But it's worth asking the question. In our experience there are few who believe the fair is in a physical location adequately suited to grow into the annual event we would all like it to be.

It's important to recognize the many businesses and people who continue to volunteer and dedicate resources to the fair. Only last week the fair learned it would again be the beneficiary of Means Nursery's generous donation to support the plant-sale fundraiser. This is one of the most popular attractions at the fair and we would like to extend a thank you to Means for its support.

Means isn't alone. There are many businesses and individuals who work diligently throughout the year to ensure the fair is a success, as we believe it has been.

And let's not lose focus of one of the main benefits the fair provides to Columbia County and its residents: It is a venue where local youth engaged in Future Farmers of America or 4-H clubs can aspire to shine. As a society, we're too quick to fund new, punitive correctional programs (although even those are more likely to prompt a nay vote these days) and too slow to support enterprises, such as the fair, that provide a healthy outlet for the community's youth. As a case in point, recently The Spotlight published a story about the new recreational fields adjacent to Scappoose Middle School, garnering online criticisms that such development is a waste of government money.

We disagree.

It is exactly the quality of life amenities, such as parks and the Columbia County Fair, that form the very foundation of community. We would rather see a new park constructed in lieu of a new jail any day.

Though the fair has its challenges ahead (the largest of which is Oregon's unpredictably hot or wet weather) and there's a lot of hard work to do before it reaches the centennial mark, we're excited about the possibilities it presents.

We look forward to seeing you at the fair, this year and into the future.

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