Farewell to the Fairgrounds?

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Farewell Fairgrounds
Folks stroll around the grounds of Umatilla County Fair. The fair is slated to open at the Eastern Oregon Trade & Event Center in 2016.
PHOTO BY JENNIFER COLTON

The ribbons have been awarded, the livestock barns cleaned out, and the vendor booths locked up, but will 2015 be the last year for the Umatilla County Fairgrounds?

Plans have slated the 2016 Umatilla County Fair – the 101st annual event – for the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center, but if EOTEC is not ready, the fair will open the gates to the fairgrounds one last time on the Orchard Avenue property. Don Miller, who serves on both the Umatilla County Fair Board and the EOTEC board, said organizers are moving forward with the idea the fair and rodeo will move but have contingency plans in place.

“We’re going to continue doing business as usual until everything is complete to a point we can move,” Miller said. “We do not have the power, water and infrastructure at the old site to put on the fair, so we’re going to certainly try to do everything we can to continue that momentum. The timeline is in place where everything will be complete at the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center by August 2016.”

The Umatilla County Fair Board has set a deadline of February to make a final decision on where the 2016 fair will be located. Because the decision is still up in the air, the process for closing out this year’s fair is no different than previous years.

“All the board members – EOTEC, Farm-City Pro-Rodeo, Umatilla County Fair – everyone’s excited about the opportunity, but at the same time everyone has their own question marks,” Miller said. “All of us have different phases and would like to see things a little different. It’s an intensive process to make sure all the individual concerns are addressed.”

Miller said the February deadline will help other entities with site specific concerns, such as the rodeo and service organizations that do fundraisers during the fair, have time to prepare for the events.

“The public needs to understand that whether we move in 2016 or are on site in 2016, there will be a fair, but they’re probably not going to see a really clean site that is 100 percent of what we want,” Miller said, adding decorative elements like landscaping will likely not be completed before the August events. “It’s going to take a lot of time and help to get us totally cleaned up and presentable.”

The move comes after a “highly” successful 2015 event. According to Fair Manager Peggy Anderson, all outdoor vendor booths were full, and the fair had three nights of sold-out concerts. The parade had the most number of entries it has ever had, and all three Umatilla County Commissioners served as ringmasters during Saturday’s livestock sale – which is expected to shatter records.

“If we didn’t have a record-breaking fair, it will be the second largest fair we’ve ever had,” Anderson said.

Anderson, who has announced she will be leaving her position this fall, admitted to having some tears and a “tough time” on Saturday night.

“It was a great fair. It really was. It makes me feel really good that we did the best could,” Anderson said. “We had a great year. It’s a great way to go out.”