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Fried food, traditional crafts, rides, animals and even vaccines attract Oregonians to Salem for the state fair's return.

PMG PHOTO: SALLY SEGAR - Morgan Smith from Dallas sits with her dairy cow, Fern. It is her first time showing dairy cattle ever and her first time at the Oregon State Fair with large animals.The Oregon State Fair began Friday, Aug. 27 after a year-long hiatus during the heat of the pandemic. Visitors and vendors gathered from around the state — and beyond — to get back together in Salem from now until Sept. 6.

Organizers didn't get the go-ahead to start planning the fair until July 1. This meant putting the event together in just eight weeks, compared to the full year they normally have to organize the fair.

Food, music, rides, crafts, animals and competitions have been scheduled for the fair.

"The fact that we pulled off not just a fair, but a really high-quality fair with new acts, new things happening, is unbelievably phenomenal," state fair spokesman Dave Thompson said. "This is a miracle."

PMG PHOTO: SALLY SEGAR - Judith Bartel from Salem weaves on a pin loom, making squares that she'll turn into mug rugs. She might make the wool ones (the white ones) into a hot plate.Typical turnout for the fair is 300,000 to 350,000, Thompson said, and fair organizers didn't know what to expect this year, but Thompson said he's optimistic.

Fairgoers and participants were thrilled to be back, after the in-person 2020 event had to be canceled.

"I love the fair," said Jessica Hope Prince Kroll. Prince Kroll runs Lady J Arts, where she sells jewelry and other handmade art. She travels to various events for Lady J Arts full time, she said. "It's a hard way to make a living, but it's also really, really fun."

The Oregon State Fair is one of Prince Kroll's favorite events, she said.

PMG PHOTO: SALLY SEGAR - Food has always been an attraction at the Oregon State Fair."One of my favorite things is to take the (FairLift) up and see the whole fair, then do a couple of rides and take it back. It's just kind of a nice way to end the day," she said.

Sue Calvert came to Salem from Roseburg for X-Treme Air Dogs, a competitive, long-jump event located at the north end of the fairgrounds at Dog Town. Calvert has been attending similar competitions for 16 years across Oregon, Washington, California and more. Now, it's her dog Magnum's turn to compete.

Calvert said she would have come to the fair even if Magnum wasn't competing. "You can see so much at one time," she said.

Inside the Creative Living building, exhibits showcase science and technology, history and traditional trades and crafts.

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - On opening day at the fair, 4-H students parade their pigs in competition.
Judith Bartel and Karen Hein sat in the building, almost as their own exhibit, spinning yarn and weaving. Hein, who lives in Yamhill County, said her favorite part of it is having "eight hours of spinning without being interrupted by my husband."

Bartel, who's from Salem, said she comes to the fair every year, even if she isn't there to weave or spin.

"I've been coming to the state fair since I was 13. I'm 72 if that gives you an idea," Bartel said.

Thompson said these types of showcases of traditional trades make the fair what it is. It isn't just rides and fried food; it's a "return to our roots," he said.

"We think of (fair activities) these days as quaint, as a hobby. Think back 160 years ago or so, when this first started. If you didn't do that, you couldn't survive," he said. "Look what we've learned in that time. Let's remember our roots so when we decide to take a direction, we know where we came from, so we know where we're going."

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - A goat gets shorn at the Oregon State Fair. Animals small and large always draw crowds.
Lots of people come to the fair as a yearly tradition, but many attended this year for the first time.

"Well it's here today, and we needed something to do," said Noah Loiselle, who is visiting from Michigan. "And this fair has been pretty awesome so far," he said.

Christine Adams agreed: "The food is really good here. I mean, I've been to fairs in California, Michigan, Las Vegas, but here for some reason, everything tastes really good."

The couple said the deep-fried Oreos were the best they'd ever had.

Elijiah and Teresa Friday came to the fair from Grand Ronde, and their favorite thing to do is eat a turkey leg. Teresa Friday said she comes every year. It's their tradition that "marks the end of the summer," she said.

She said she loves being around people — and people watching. "It feels like things used to be, as much as possible."

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - A ride on the $5 FairLift provides cool views at Oregon State Fairgrounds.
"We're just glad to be open; if you have to wear a mask, you have to wear a mask," she added.

The fair opened a vaccination clinic this year, too, offering visitors their choice of COVID-19 vaccines. The fair also offered testing for the virus, Thompson said.

"We're doing everything we can to keep it as safe as possible so that we can have fun," he said.

Ziggy Hixson, Tesla Zacharias and Owen Normandy volunteered at the vaccine clinic. The three agreed that they were wary of COVID-19 concerns at the fair, but they were surprised by the clinic's turnout.

"This is our first clinic that we've worked at since the (FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine)," Hixson said, "and the turnout has definitely been a lot higher than it was before."

The three have noticed unenthusiastic visitors, but "it seems like there's a shift in mindset from, 'I'm absolutely not doing that,' to, 'Maybe I should,' even if they don't really want to," Hixson said.

PMG PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Tommy Bartlett of the Jetpack Flying Water Circus performs stunts, towed by a JetSki rider.
Each of them noticed visitors not wearing masks around the fair, though masks were required indoors and outdoors. Hixson said he still feels hopeful.

"It's cool seeing this place populated again for sure," he said. "It fills me with a little bit of optimism seeing this all happen."

Several new experiences and performances are at the Oregon State Fair, including Puzzlemania, GASCAR Crazy Animals Races and Farmyard Follies, as well as nine new carnival rides, including Vertigo, Round Up, Tip Top and Eruption.

A big attraction has always been the concerts at L.B. Day Amphitheater, and tickets remain. Other happenings include the Jetpack Flying Water Circus, Farrell Dillon from the CW Network's "Masters of Illusion" and ongoing attractions that include the carnival from Portland's Rainier Amusements, FairLift (a ride offering a birds-eye view of the fairgrounds), a nightly finale featuring Sacred Fire Dance Company, DogTown (including X-Treme Air Dogs) and horse shows and 4-H and FFA competitions.

Admission is $8 for ages 12-64, $6 kids 6-11 and $1 65-and-up; carnival ride wristbands are $55; 125 game/ride tickets are $50.

The fair opens at 10 a.m. each day.

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