Columbia County Fair begins July 14
Set up for the Columbia County Fair and Rodeo is well under way, along with the annual plant sale.
The plant sale started Wednesday, July 7, and runs through Sunday, July 11, at the fairgrounds.
The county fair starts Wednesday, July 14, and runs through Sunday, July 18.
In past years, the fair and the plant sale — which raises money for the fairgrounds — have been held at the same time. The county fair didn't happen in 2020 because of the pandemic, but organizers still hosted a plant sale.
"It went so well we just decided to do it the same way" this year, fair board president Jamie Carr said.
The separate dates mean that the plant sale can take up more space on the fairgrounds, and it makes it easier for visitors to get to the plants and back to their cars while loaded down with heavy flowers and vegetable plants.
Carr said the 2020 plant sale set a new single-day record, selling $11,000 of plants. On the first day of this year's plant sale, customers broke that record, buying $22,000-worth of plants.
The plant sale will continue Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Aside from the separate dates for the fair and the plant sale, this year's fair and rodeo will look mostly the same as in past years, except for a few key differences.
The Columbia County Dairy Women won't be serving up cold treats this year. The group typically sells ice cream at the fair, but doing so requires expensive equipment that has to be reserved far in advance. Months ago, when it was still unclear if the fair would happen, the group decided they couldn't run the risk of investing money and having it go to waste, Carr said. But many of the usual faces selling ice cream cones will still be at the fair, volunteering in other positions.
Carr said COVID-19-related uncertainty may also explain low entries in livestock and art shows. 4-H livestock entries are between one-third and one-half of the numbers in a typical year, Carr estimated. Entries for other competitions, which include florals, quilts and more, are also down.
The fair board announced dates for the fair back in February, but organizers said they still weren't sure if COVID-19 restrictions would allow for a normal fair, or any fair at all.
Carr said that the board wasn't sure if the fair would happen until May, giving them less than two months to fully prepare. The group had been planning before then, but there were ideas that couldn't be nailed down, schedules that couldn't be finalized and contracts that couldn't be signed without more certainty.
"A lot of decisions that were made for fair were made in the past few months," Carr said.
Organizers are also mindful of a potential increase in altercations at the fair.
"Tensions can be high at times, especially when everybody's been cooped up," Carr said, noting that masks versus no masks could become an argument.
Masks won't be required at the outdoor fair, but the 4-H displays have to follow Oregon State University Guidelines, which are more restrictive.
This is the first fair organized by an almost entirely new fair board.
Fair board members are appointed by the county board of commissioners and are in charge of organizing the annual fair. It's a far larger time commitment than the other volunteer boards and committees run by the county, especially in the months leading up to fair.
The lack of experience is a challenge, but the fair board isn't all on its own. Components of the fair are led by other groups and individuals with years of experience, like Woody Davis, who runs the 4-H part of fair, and Mark and Julie Sandstrom, who run the rodeo committee.
Most of the people involved in planning the fair are volunteers, including the fair board. Carr said he's spent his Fridays at the fairgrounds lately. On other weekdays since setup started, he's come to the fairgrounds after 10-hour days working construction.
The fair is still looking for more volunteers to ease the demands on the existing volunteers. Anyone who volunteers for a four-hour shift receives free admission to the fair for the day.
Pre-sale tickets are $8 for adults.
The fair is open Wednesday, July 14, through Sunday, July 18, starting at 10 a.m. each day. The fair closes at 10 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday; midnight on Friday and Saturday; and 5 p.m. on Sunday. A full schedule is available online. The fairgrounds are located at 58892 Saulser Road in St. Helens.
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