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Enumclaw fast tracks King County Fair planning

King County handed the King County Fair operation to the city of Enumclaw on Feb. 23, but Joan Lewis knew she couldn’t sit around doing nothing until the county took its final, formal step.

“Since the county approached us I’ve been thinking of a strategy for producing the fair this year,” she said. Once the vote was taken, she said, “I became a little more aggressive.”

Lewis spent 18 years as a King County employee working at the fairgrounds and helping with the fair. During that time, she saw the fair evolve from a popular attraction that had visitors jammed shoulder-to-shoulder in the midway to a July event that fell out of favor with a large segment of the population. She eventually spent a year with Metro Transit before returning as a city of Enumclaw employee when the city took ownership of the grounds.

Now, as manager of the Enumclaw Expo Center for the city’s Parks Department, Lewis is charged with putting on the 2009 event, which is being dubbed “Enumclaw’s King County Fair.”

Recent history indicates Lewis faces a daunting challenge.

King County Executive Ron Sims, in an effort to get rid of the fair, did not include any funding in his proposed 2009 budget. Members of the Metropolitan King County Council disagreed with Sims’ stance and eventually included $311,000 in the budget, the same amount that had been included for 2008. The county also asked Enumclaw to put on this year’s fair, a request the City Council accepted with a Feb. 9 vote.

“We anticipated the county would sign,” Lewis said, so she immediately began contacting commercial vendors and looking for ways to return a carnival to the fair. Talks were tentative, as nothing could be formalized until the county council took its vote.

While in a holding pattern, Lewis and others in the department crafted their vision.

“Our goal is to take it back to the traditional fair it once was,” she said. “Hopefully we can get that back, hopefully we can re-create some of that feeling.”

That means the raucous sounds of a carnival, the smells of the livestock barns and the sight of commercial vendors hawking their wares.

“We have a couple of different carnivals interested,” Lewis said, noting that many have not yet firmed up their 2009 calendars.

When it comes to 4-H and FFA youngsters, Lewis said the city is making a “big commitment” to providing them with traditional county fair opportunities.

“They’re very excited and they’ve been very helpful,” she said of the regional agricultural community. “They want this to succeed as much as we do.”

Lewis also has reached out to the Enumclaw Area Chamber of Commerce and Mount Rainier Independent Business Alliance, looking to involve the Enumclaw business community in the fair.

Those who visited the fair during its halcyon days will remember that the city and some of its civic groups were visible contributors to the fair’s success.

The city presence may not be as strong as it once was, but Lewis is encouraging local clubs and organizations to get involved. It all begins with a vendor application available thorugh her office.

As in the past few years, there will be familiar faces in the root beer garden. It will again be operated by the Enumclaw Kiwanis Club and the Enumclaw High School Key Club.

The one-year agreement signed by the county council gives the city of Enumclaw control of the fair and the $311,000 subsidy King County has budgeted for the event. The county will transfer all of the personal property used for the fair to Enumclaw without charge. The city is also eligible for roughly $37,000 in financial support from the state of Washington.

Under terms of the agreement, Enumclaw will be responsible for all aspects of the fair, from the timing and theme to the selection of vendors and entertainment. The city must provide competitions for 4-H and the Future Farmers of America (FFA) sufficient to allow participants to compete at the 4-H State Fair in Puyallup.

Members of the King County Council were quick to support the city’s effort.

“I commend the city for stepping up to the plate and putting the fair on with a very short lead time” said County Councilman Reagan Dunn, prime sponsor of the ordinance. “The citizens of Enumclaw spoke out when the executive tried to cut the fair and now they are leading the way again. We will use this year to figure out how the fair can be sustainable into the future.”

“Last fall we could have lost an important piece of King County history,” Councilman Peter von Reichbauer added. “However, because of the strong outpouring of community and regional support, the King County Fair has been preserved. I look forward to attending the fair for many more years to come, and working with Enumclaw leaders to expand its heritage.”

During the 2009 budget deliberations, county offices were flooded with calls, e-mails and letters from residents advocating the restoration of funding for the fair. Weeks of public testimony, including a town hall meeting hosted by Dunn and von Reichbauer in Enumclaw, convinced the council to restore fair funding for 2009.

The County Council also created a King County Fair Task Force to analyze current fair operations and explore ways to attract the exhibits, programs and entertainment that will increase attendance and revenue at the fair. The first meeting of the task force is planned for next week and members will work with public and private sector leaders.

This year’s fair will take place July 16-18.

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