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Round Table: Taking a deep breath and offering some advice about the Fair

Overheard, father to son, at the 2014 Hood River County Fair: “In this case, the carnival is part of the fair, but there doesn’t need to be a carnival on for there to be a fair.”

I thought the comment conveyed nicely the ongoing conundrum of the Hood River County Fair: the flashy shell cannot completely cover the creative heart.

The fair has been over a couple of weeks now, and our Fair Results listings are winding down, but I am probably like many local residents in that the fair is still on my mind. I very much wish the Hood River County Fair continued success, and with that I offer a few ideas for consideration of those who organize it. What I propose or reflect upon is the result of covering 31 county fairs, in four communities of like size, in my career as a reporter and editor.

n Fair board and local organizations can find ways to fill up the gold and blue gyms again; only three groups used the space this year. Miscommunication seems to be the cause of the no-show by a school-based user group that would have used half of the blue gym this year.

n Schend said the Fair Board will review the space rental fee structure to ensure it is affordable to all users.

n Increase cooperation with Chamber of Commerce to encourage participation by its member businesses and organizations. Fair manager Clara Rice and Fair Board president Mike Schend and Chamber executive director Mike Glover have all said they would happily work together to improve their connections.

n Similarly, the Fair Board should outreach to wind and paddle sport groups to show off their gear, perhaps even using the Wy’east football field for demonstrations. This exposes fairgoers to these remarkable sports, and wind sport enthusiasts to a remarkable fair.

n Bring back the Talent Show. It dissipated a few years back but local interest endures: similar events at the Center for the Arts in 2010 and 2011 drew large, ticket-buying crowds, to see musicians, comedians, dancers, jugglers, and others. Sweeten the pot and add the incentive that the winner will perform before the Saturday night headliner show, or hold the general round on Wednesday or Thursday with the three finalists competing before the Saturday show.

n The “Amazing Race” scavenger hunt among 4H participants could be expanded to any fairgoer who would like to try. Add a prize or two, and it might induce people to take in the aspects of the fair they would otherwise ignore. Cash or a couple of nice gift certificates are strong inducements to expose oneself to the quilts or small animal barn.

n Recruit local musicians to perform in the Wy’east gym, adding a layer of appeal to the under-attended displays of art, photos and handcrafts.

n Ban tobacco at the fairgrounds.

It’s prohibited at all other county facilities; the County Commission has granted the Fair Board the option to allow tobacco. The County Tobacco Prevention Coalition has quietly lobbied the Fair Board to get in line with the county policy, but to no avail. Signs at the fair that ask people to desist from tobacco are generally obeyed, but is it enough?

Smoking is far from widespread but it does go on and it’s a bad example for children.

The fair is promoted as a family-friendly event, yet smoking is still allowed. Consistency is important. The time has come to ban tobacco at the fairgrounds.

Further, the neighboring school grounds become a defacto part of the fairgrounds during county fair (and other events during the year). The School District has a firm “no tobacco products” rule. Yet people were seen smoking on the school grounds during fair. Smoking on school property creates a mixed message and serves as a doubly bad example for kids. The only way to enforce the school’s policy those times of the year is to forbid smoking throughout the fairgrounds.

Granted, enforcement will be a challenge, perhaps an impossible one. The Fair could upgrade it from tobacco discouraged to tobacco banned, but keep it as a policy, meaning no citations or ejections but fair officials, county deputies and others would have some strength behind their verbal requests that people desist. (If a tent still needs to be set aside for the carnival workers, then so be it.)

But much more should be done to make the fair a tobacco-free environment. The next-largest single event in Hood River County, Harvest Fest, is tobacco-free.

Most people don’t smoke. Allowing smoking during the fair ignores the wishes and behavior of the vast majority, at an event that directly appeals to families: the little girl on the cover of the 2014 fair book is holding balloons, not cigarettes.

The fair board has a year to make it known to vendors and contractors, including Cascade Amusements, that the fairgrounds will be tobacco free in 2015.

It’s just the right thing to do.

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