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Fair, sans small animals, opens Thursday


Summertime staple vies with air show for top billing in Hillsboro

The 2013 Washington County Fair will offer a wide range of family entertainment during its four-day run, including traditional farm exhibits, live music, tractor pulls and a carnival.

But this year's fair, which runs Thursday through Sunday, opens amid questions over whether it is straying too far from its farming roots. The controversy is exacerbated this year by the decision to schedule the 2013 International Oregon Air Show on the same weekend, which prompted the cancellation of small animal displays, a fair staple over the years.

According to fair complex executive director Leah Perkins-Hagele, chickens, rabbits and other small animals are easily frightened by loud noises. So she worked with 4-H and FFA organizations to hold a separate small animal fair at the fairgrounds the weekend of July 12-13. Larger animals, such as cows and horses, will still be exhibited during the fair.

Not everyone was happy with the decision. Hillsboro resident Andy Haugen, who has shown chickens at the fair since 2009, could not participate in the small animal because he isn't involved in 4-H or FFA. This year he will not be able to show at the fairgrounds at all.

"I'm very disappointed they broke with tradition. A lot of people come to the fair every year to see the small animals, and this year there won't be any," said Haugen.

Perkins-Hagele said the cancellation of the Blue Angels flight team should reduce the risk of the remaining larger animals being frightened during the air show. The famed U.S. Navy jets have appeared repeatedly in Hillsboro in the past and have always been the loudest of the participating aircraft.

"They're really window-rattling," said Perkins-Hagele, who described the replacement headlining Patriot Jet Team as "quiet."

Perkins-Hagele added that the other loud event is the traditional Friday night fireworks show. She said fair officials are not overly worried about the remaining animals, but will be closing the doors on their barns during the show just to be sure.

Some longtime fair backers have a range of other anxieties, however. Lyle Spiesschaert, a Forest Grove resident and longtime member of the Fair Boosters, wonders how the air show could have been scheduled for the same weekend without any public debate.

"We're concerned about safety with so many people in the area," he said.

Spiesschaert also questions the arrangements made for the Oregon Renaissance Festival of Hillsboro, which makes its debut at the fair. The for-profit historic-themed chalet will continue at the fairgrounds every weekend through September 29, including Labor Day.

"I think the Renasissance Fair is great, but I don't think a private business should be tying the county-owned fairgrounds for so long. It's a public resource," said Spiesschaert.

Despite the criticisms, the popularity of the fair has soared in recent years, however. Perkins-Hagele said attendance has grown from around 38,000 to more than 100,000 people last year.

Washington County Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Bob Ray said deputies will have a "heavy presence" at the fair during all hours to make sure things stay safe.

The fairgrounds are located at 873 N.E. 34th Ave. Fair hours are 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day. For a complete schedule and more information, visit bigfairfun.com.