Traditional fair returns to Enumclaw

Enumclaw’s King County Fair kicks off its three-day run Thursday, bringing a new sense of energy to a 146-year-old tradition.

The city of Enumclaw has taken over operation of the oldest county fair west of the Mississippi and the theme for this year’s edition is “Let’s Go Wild.”

The city is bringing back some favorite events and creating some new traditions including: the Critter Crowning Contest, lawnmower races, a tractor pull and a variety of musical guests. A carnival is also returning to the fairgrounds, with the Scrambler and Cliffhanger joining more than a dozen rides being offered.

The fair will open at 10 a.m. Thursday and run through 8 p.m. Saturday. Admission to the event is free and parking is $5 per vehicle.

The fair has weathered some rocky times lately and its future was in serious doubt.

As a result of declining attendance and a projected $93 million deficit in King County’s general fund, the fair’s $318,000 contribution from county taxpayers was cut from the county executive’s 2009 budget proposal. Councilmembers’ offices were flooded with calls, e-mails and letters from residents advocating that funding be restored.

After weeks of public testimony, including a well-attended town hall at the Enumclaw Expo Center fieldhouse, the council reinstated the funding and asked the city of Enumclaw to run the fair in 2009. The council also created a Fair Task Force that is currently evaluating how to make the fair sustainable for the future.

Fair Manager Joan Lewis has noted several highlights:

• the fair kicks off at 10 a.m. Thursday with the traditional Critter Crowning Contest, a process that determines which cow, horse, chicken or other creature will reign over this year’s event. Ron Upshaw, from KIRO Radio’s popular Ron and Don talk show, will serve as master of ceremonies for the event and is grand marshall for the fair.

• the lawnmower races, slated for 6:30 p.m. Saturday, will feature a pair of head-to-head battles. Upshaw will challenge his radio partner and longtime friend Don O’Neill in one race, while the other has Enumclaw Mayor John Wise taking on King County Councilman Reagan Dunn.

• at age 30, Washington Horse of the Century Chinook Pass doesn’t move quite as fast as he did when he was national sprint champion of 1983, but when he sees his trailer being backed up to his stall he gets right in. He knows that his longtime companion, Jill Hallin, will be taking him somewhere to meet his fans and there’s nothing he likes better. Between noon and 6 p.m. all three days of the fair, the public will have the opportunity to meet the living legend in the horse barn.

• Thursday night will bring a mutton bustin’ competition, where young riders weighing 60 pounds or less will try their hand at riding sheep. There’s no admission charge to watch, but there will be an entry fee for contestants. Registration begins at 3 p.m. Thursday and competition begins at 5 p.m. in the rodeo arena.

• one of the critical attractions missing from last year’s fair was a carnival, a situation the city has remedied. Discounted tickets are available by visiting until 9 tonight, Wednesday.

• featured entertainers include Bobby Medina’s Red Hot Band at 8 p.m. Thursday; The Beatniks at 4 p.m. Friday; Dan Whyms and his Johnny Cash tribute show at 8 p.m. Friday; Heart for a Tin Man, playing progressive rock at 6:30 p.m. Saturday; and Freddy Pink, a nine-piece rock and soul band at 8 p.m. Saturday

• the seminar stage will feature a rotating slate of experts, many dealing with “green” themes. Local gardening expert Marianne Binetti will take the stage a 4 each afternoon.