Can animal lovers, food junkies and sports enthusiasts all really find something to pique their interests in just one place? They might, if they head to the annual Spokane County Interstate Fair, which starts today.
With several new activities as well as some old favorites, amusement seekers will have plenty to explore at the 10-day fair, which ends Sept. 18.
“It’s very diversified, from flowers to hot tubs to goats,” said Dolly Hughes, director of the Spokane County Fairgrounds and Expo Center, 404 N. Havana St.
Sunflowers take center stage this year with the fair’s theme “Find the Sun.” Each day there will be a “Sunflower of the Day” display in the Plaza.
Agricultural Building Superintendent Bonnie Sewell said sunflowers are very versatile.
“We had one that had 60 heads,” Sewell said. “You can get little ones and some that are 20 feet tall.”
New attractions include a traveling exhibit by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, games such as sunflower seed spitting and spelling bee contests, and a jumping contest for dogs. Borrowing some ideas from reality television, there will even be a “Fair Factor,” where 10 competitors take each other on with the hopes of driving away in a new car. Sports lovers can head to the Grandstand for some interactive games put on by Sports USA, while the Sunflower Saddle Ranch will have supervised activities for children under 12, such as a tractor obstacle course.
The rodeo in the Grandstand Arena, which is a fair staple, also promises some new excitement.
“We have two Texas Longhorn steers that will be ridden in posting the colors,” Hughes said. More than 300 cowboys have signed up for the rodeo, she said, the largest number in 25 years.
Other changes include having one night of entertainment on the main stage instead of three, as in the past, but there are more talent shows on the North Stage, Hughes said.
On Wednesday, preparations were in full swing all over the fairgrounds. In one of the agricultural displays, lines of fresh tomatoes, potatoes, squash, green beans, peppers, carrots and other vegetables gleamed appealingly on plates waiting to be judged. Sewell said there are usually 500 to 600 horticultural entries each year. One of the highlights is the giant pumpkins; last year’s largest pumpkin weighed more than 800 pounds.
In another section, Debbie Rhodes was setting up her Candle Hut. It’s Rhode’s first time displaying her wares at the fair; she makes the candles from soybean wax.
“They burn almost soot-free,” said Rhodes, who used 500 pounds of wax to make the candles.
A few booths away, Roger and Marge Berghoff were putting up a portrait studio. The Berghoffs have participated in the fair for 15 years and say the fairgrounds just keep getting better.
“I think they’re doing a fantastic job of making this fairground look great,” Marge Berghoff said. “This is a very clean, tidy fair.”
Fair attendance has declined over the years. Rain helped keep away fairgoers last year when it was wet eight out the 10 days – only 189,000 people went, down from 211,000 in 2003, creating concerns about future revenues.
Hughes said fair officials are hoping for a big crowd this year, and expect some of the new events will lure people in.
While other leisure activities have drawn crowds away, Hughes said the fair is still one of the most economical and family-friendly entertainment choices.
“There’s a lot of competition for the entertainment dollar in Spokane,” Hughes said. “What most of them don’t have is the animals and the youth activities. … The fair is not just entertainment, it’s education and history.”
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