County drops budget bomb on fair

By Kevin Hanson-The Courier-Herald

By Kevin Hanson-The Courier-Herald

The King County Fair has overcome more than a few challenges during its 145-year history. But never has it been threatened with its very life - until now.

Lacking a clear identity and struggling to maintain an interested audience, the fair finds itself in the budgetary crosshairs of County Executive Ron Sims, who is charged with helping draft a balanced budget for 2009.

When Sims released his version of next year’s spending plan Oct. 13, tucked away in the details was a suggestion that the fair - which moved to Enumclaw following World War II - be eliminated.

It was noted that getting rid of the fair would save the county $315,000 per year. Sims and members of the Metropolitan King County Fair are looking at a budget deficit of $93 million as they attempt to draft a workable budget for next year.

Sims’ suggestion caught most people by surprise. Just a week earlier, two members of the county council, Reagan Dunn and Peter von Reichbauer, announced plans for an open house in Enumclaw to solicit suggestions from the public, all in the name of shaping an improved fair that would meet today’s needs and current public desires.

That session, scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight, Wednesday, will still take place. It will be in the Enumclaw Expo Center fieldhouse, with an informal gathering beginning at 6:30.

Sims made it clear he thinks the fair’s time has passed.

“We’ve planned to get out of the King County Fair business for a long period of time,” Sims said to one media outlet. “People are not attracted to it. We don’t get a lot of people coming to the fair. I think we’ve tried everything.

“We’re saying it’s time to throw in the towel on the King County Fair.”

The fair, in its current incarnation, is nothing like the attraction that clogged Enumclaw-area roads in the 1970s and ‘80s. In its prime, the fair was a huge draw, leaving people shoulder-to-shoulder as they strolled the midway; merely to get onto the grounds, fairgoers would park blocks away and be shuttled to the gate.

There was a time when the fair offered big-name entertainment, drew fans from miles away while still boasting a small-town flavor and counted more than 100,000 people clicking through the turnstiles.

By contrast, last year’s fair was dropped to three days and drew a little more than 16,000 fans. Gone were the carnival rides and many of the vendors, replaced by an emphasis on youth and agriculture. Parking and fair admission were free.

Reach Kevin Hanson at or 360-802-8205.