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Fair a mixture of change and tradition

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The name and ownership of the annual fair held each August in Langley has changed, but visitors may not notice much of a difference.

Fair goers will still have four days to visit the animals: alpacas with bodies shorn of fur that make their unshaved heads seem a bit cartoonish; crowing roosters with red combs and wattles waggling; floppy-eared, spotted goats peering curiously over the edges of their pens.

Fair goers will still have four days to climb aboard spinning and twirling carnival rides, bite into fried food, tap their feet to music and just have fun.

In July, Island County commissioners disestablished the Island County Fair as a county government-owned and operated fair. In its place is the Whidbey Island Area Fair, a privately run, regional fair run by the Island County Fair Association.

The money to support the fair will come from gate admissions and vendor fees, plus charges for camping and other events held on the fairgrounds throughout the year.

According to Kelly Cammermeyer, “office diva” for the association, the goal was to expand the event to allow for more participation from people outside of the county.

The organization has run the fairs since 1912, first as a private stock company and later as a nonprofit. The fair association became a Washington state nonprofit in 1923, and in 2002 qualified for 501c(3) nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service.

“It’s fantastic,” Cammermeyer said, and then paused with a laugh. “It’s ‘Fairtastic.’”

“Fairtastic” is this year’s fair theme.

“The plan is to have better and better fairs each year,” Cammermeyer said.

In the past, fair exhibits were limited to residents of Island County. But with this year’s transition to a regional fair, members of surrounding communities can show off their baked goods, their fine art or prized pig and take home a blue ribbon.

The fair’s goal has been broadened to “support the agricultural heritage of Whidbey Island and the Puget Sound region, to encourage education and to provide an annual fair to showcase the products, skills and interests of the surrounding communities.”

Community members from Jefferson, San Juan,
Skagit and Island counties can participate.

With the fair expanding its reach to neighboring communities, fair organizers expect an increase in the number of entries, which in turn helps boost attendance and helps keep the fair vibrant.

Cammermeyer said earlier this week that she hopes to see a lot more entries.

The change is not expected to have much impact on the local youth exhibitors. All youth competitors who sign up in advance online are guaranteed to take home a ribbon – and there is no limit on how many can participate.

Christine Johnson, fair competitor from Clinton, expects that these changes could benefit the fair as it could increase entries.

“(The Fair Association) keeps things fresh,” Johnson said. “Whatever changes they make, I expect they will be good.”

Johnson and three of her family members compete in the Super 17 and Fabulous 14 contests, in which participants have at least one entry in 17 or 14 categories, respectively.

Categories include such things as food preservation, photography and fiber arts, for example.

The Johnsons collectively submit 59 entries for these competitions, and they have goat, dog and chicken entries as well.

For the past 50 years, the county has overseen the Fair Fund, generated from gate admissions, booth fees and other charges. This fund was separate from the county’s Current Expense Fund.

The change in the fair’s management will lighten the administrative workload for both the fair association and Island County staff.

Deposits will be handled by the association rather than the county Treasurer’s Office, and expenses will no longer have to be tracked by the county Auditor’s Office.

The county still owns the fairgrounds, but the association now manages the facility on a self-supporting basis. The county commissioners’ role is now simply that of landlord.

The fair association will lease the grounds from the county for the purposes of conducting the annual fair.

The county will not charge the association rent for the property because of the service the association will be providing in organizing and running the fair each year.

Significant changes to Whidbey’s fair have occurred at 50-year intervals since the fair began in 1912. In 1962, the Fair Association deeded the fairgrounds property to Island County.

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