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Volunteer-run fair pulls together

Despite cuts and planning snags, county fair organizers expect strong draw


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON -  Columbia County Fairgrounds Maintenance crew from left to right: Matthew Gillman, David Somann, Lee Engle, Austin Marquette, Dan Phelan, Tom KremanThe 98th Annual Columbia County Fair and Rodeo is scheduled to kick off Wednesday, July 17, at noon and will run through Sunday.

This year’s theme is Wagon Teams to Western Dreams, and is intended to inspire fair-goers to harken back to the “old time country fair idea,” said Randall Hansen, secretary with Columbia County Fairgrounds and member of the Columbia County Fair Board.

Although this year’s fair is expected to attract more than 30,000 people and fair organizers have been reaching out to attract bigger acts for the stage, Hansen says planning and organizing has been slow-going.

For the second consecutive year the fair is 100 percent volunteer-run, the result of budgetary cutbacks that saw the elimination of all paid fair staff.

“It’s taking a toll on a lot of it,” Hansen said. “We’re probably at the point where we need a contractor to keep the board to task. There’s a lot of things that are biting us at the last minute. We’re going to trip and fall, but we’re not going to trip and fall as hard as last year.”

Hansen said the main issues with organizing the fair have been related to time management on the part of the Columbia County Fair Board. “The board needs to be put to the grindstone and get these things done in a timely manner,” he said.

Construction projects related to the fair have also been taking longer than expected. Hansen said he’s still nervous about some pieces of the fair, such as parking, “We still have a lot of work to do,” he said.

Hansen said that, although some aspects of the fair are being put together in a last-minute rush, proper planning and frugality earlier in the year on the part of the board has been much better than in previous years.

“Last year there were things we had to do past the eleventh hour. This year we haven’t had nearly those sort of things,” he said.

Through rentals and sporadic usage, the Columbia County Fairgrounds has been able to generate profit every month, which was put directly into the fairgrounds to improve electrical systems, cement work, landscaping and more.

“We put about $50,000 into renovations from January to July 1,” Hansen said. “We did a very good job of investing any extra money we could generate into the facility.”

Hansen pointed out that the fair is not supported by tax dollars.

“I can look three commissioners in the eye and say, ‘You’re welcome here, but we’re doing it ourselves with sponsorships and frugal and aggressive marketing,’” he said.

One of the board’s efforts has been to expand the fair’s reach to surrounding communities and neighboring counties. Hansen said organizers are trying to tell people outside of Columbia County to “come see us, we have something.”