Experiencing the Central Washington State Fair

2006 Central Wash. State Fair in Yakima - A Fairgoer's Experience 

thumb_100_9002.jpgAs I set foot on the familiar grounds of the Central Washington State Fairg this year, I anticipated reliving the sights and sounds of my childhood, and making a few new memories too. 

I spent countless hours at the shady, picturesque fairgrounds in Yakima, WA, during my teen years.  Usually, I entered through Dalton Lane gate, bringing my horse or my rabbits to the barns for exhibition.  By 6 am my fellow 4-H club members and I would be in the barns, feeding our horses, mucking stalls, and preparing for the day.  Experiencing the Fair “on the backside” like this, you get a totally different perspective.  

What is a Fair, in essence?  Why do people go to all the trouble to maintain the grounds, prepare their exhibits, advertise the Fair, and of course, attend it?   County and State Fairs originated as a way for the farming and agriculture industries to display, quite literally, the fruit of their labor.  A Fair is a community celebration, competition, and a chance to pat your neighbor on the back and congratulate them on their prize bull or giant pumpkin. 

thumb_100_9033.jpgOf course, today the average fairgoer sees more commercial exhibits, merchandise, and entertainment than quilts, canned goods, or prize winning chickens.  In my opinion, an individual’s experience of any Fair hinges on their perspective.  Do they see themselves as participants, or consumers?  Is the Fair a commodity to be purchased, or is it a chance to participate in your community?  thumb_100_9042.jpg

Here's how I participated in this year’s Central Washington State Fair.  I arrived early in the morning, saw the first fairgoers come through the gates, and was there at closing time as happy, tired people headed out the gates and home.  I was jostled by crowds in the midway, viewed the fairgrounds from the height of the giant ferris wheel, and negotiated the Sundome full of merchants and informational booths.  I enjoyed the smells of fried food and trampled grass, and the sounds of clattering roller coasters and calliope carousel music. 

But I didn’t really feel like a participant until I started making my way to the older half of the fairgrounds.  The Agriculture Building, the oldest building on the premises, embodies the Central thumb_100_8922.jpgWashington State Fair, with its faint smell of hops, creaky wood floors, and timeless exhibits.  I walked the perimeter of the building, enjoying the grange exhibits which abound with creativity and educational value year after year.  And of course, when in the Ag Building, you must buy a wonder bar!   

thumb_100_8813.jpgAnother favorite of mine is the Modern Living Building.  Quilts hang high on the walls, and all manner of hand crafted items are displayed for your browsing enjoyment.  It was in this building that my school and 4-H exhibits used to be displayed.  My siblings and I would make our entries weeks before the Fair, and on opening day, we’d eagerly search the building to see all our entries and find out what awards we got.  Naturally, we were also motivated by the premium check - $1 for a blue ribbon?!  Nice!  Honestly, I don’t remember how much those premiums were, but what’s important now, when I reflect on being a youth exhibitor, is the experience of really being a part of the Fair. 


Despite all my "yakking" about the importance of community and local exhibitors, I have to say that one of my favorite parts of this year's Fair was the Sea Lion Encounters show.  These magical creatures brought joy to many people. thumb_100_9268b.jpg 

Meandering on toward the barns and arenas, it started to feel even more like home.  The dust from Durand Arena drifted lazily toward the barns, mixing with the smoke from the Young Life booth and the Harrah Christian School booth, and perhaps my favorite, the Lamb Burger booth!   

thumb_100_8986.jpgI walked into a barn and breathed deeply of the scents of hay, shavings, horses, and, yes, manure.  There’s something about the sweet pungency of a barn that’s magic to a horse lover like me.  When I was young, I watched older girls showing their horses at the Fair and longed to be a part of that world (cue Little Mermaid music…).  It was such a thrill to have that dream come true when I showed my horse in my teenage years.  Now, I’ve come full circle and I volunteer with 4-H groups, helping young people, who are just like I once was, realize their dreams.  But I digress.  See, this is what the Fair does!  It brings back all sorts of wonderful memories.   thumb_100_8817.jpg

Some people say, why go to the Fair year after year?  If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all.  I beg to differ.  Yes, many things stay the same, and some things change too much.  The reason to attend a Fair regularly is to take a walk down memory lane; to validate, with one’s presence, the idea that community matters, and that THIS community matters.  If you think the Fair is just a superficial, commercialized show, then you might not be looking closely enough. 

So I recommend that you take some time, when the Fair comes around next year, to share the magic of our community with your friends and loved ones.  Someday in the not too distant future, you may find yourself catching the scent of hops somewhere in the Yakima Valley, and suddenly feeling as if you’re in the Ag Building!  That’s when you know you’re a real Yakimaniac. 


Do you have an experience to share about the Fair?  Yak about it on the Yakboard!