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County Fair Nostalgia: All American Food and Fun

ferris wheelEditor’s Note: All around North America, counties are putting on fairs, most of which haven’t changed much in 200 years. Our correspondent, Liz Rose, takes a trip back through time and her childhood to play at Washington’s Clark County Fair. And you know what? Maybe you can go home again. – BH

The good old county fair hasn’t changed much. I was surprised.

When I grew up in California, we always went to the Watsonville County Fair. My memories were full of strawberries, pie contests, hot dogs and rides on the Ferris wheel. So when I saw an announcement for my local fair, I wanted to check things out and see if there was even a vestige of my childhood fair memories.

Color, loud music and motion greeted me at the Clark County Washington’s Fair gate. Festive and bright children’s rides along with larger thrill rides didn’t seem much different than I remember back in the day. The carnival grounds were clean, children were riding the merry-go-round, and teens were screaming on the “Freak Out” a swinging ride 70 feet above my head. And, in the distance was the Ferris wheel, perhaps larger than I used to ride, but not all that different.

fish and chips

Some of the best fair food is sold by non-profits fundraising for their organization.

Fun with Fair Food

After watching and photographing the rides and carnival attractions, it was time for food… fair food. Here at the Clark County Fair, there is a whole building devoted to foods, both local offerings and traveling traditional fair food. I bypassed the bar-b-que turkey leg booth and headed for the main building.

Right away, I was attracted to a bright and clean stand run by the local Shriners who support the children’s hospital in Portland. A jovial group of men offered me freshly fried fish and chips accompanied by creamy tartar sauce. They kept me company spinning tales of their fundraising activities as clowns. They were also quick to draw out their iPhones and impress me with their clown make-up and costumes.

There was quite a variety of foods, including ethnic foods and, of course, hot dogs with all the trimmings. If you want to find locally-sourced foods, the best bet is to look for local organizations that are fund-raising. In Oregon, Marionberries are a local favorite. The Clark County Dairy Women’s sign advertised Marionberry Shakes, cool, creamy and pink with fresh berries. Judging by the line, it was a popular offering.


Nearly everything about a county fair is a step back in time.

But then there was the gaudy stand across the way… Funnel Cakes. I just had to have one of those.

Local Produce and Food Preservation
Entering the exhibit halls is an opportunity to look at fair exhibits amazingly similar to those that you would have seen in your childhood. There are prize quilts in traditional designs, rows of canned goods, flowers, vegetables, cakes and cookies.

The produce contests give a great picture of the agricultural bounty of the area. And, ever growing, are categories for the home brewer and vintner. Cider must be next.

As I looked at the rows of preserved and dried foods, I noticed dried Chanterelle mushrooms, a very Pacific Northwest delicacy. The varieties of freshly picked tomatoes were topped only by the “Vegetable Oddity” category. First prize was won by a very oddly shaped green tomato.

Rounding the corner, I came upon a booth promoting canning and food preservation by the Master Food Preservers. The vintage design sign read, “Yes, I Can!” The volunteers teach those that would like to learn how to safely preserve the harvest of their gardens, farmers markets and gleaning.

canned p[eaches

County fairs are still about prize winning peaches and blue ribbons.

Exhibits and Hawkers
Among the hawkers with microphones selling cookware and food processors, there were displays of locally made products. The Traeger Grill folks were there and their’s is a local story. In the early ‘80’s, the Traeger family approached Mount Angel, Oregon Abbey about purchasing the abbey’s dairy farm, which had sat empty since 1964. They developed their first grill in 1985 and began producing their trademark Trager grills in 1988. The early Traeger grills were made in that barn. The grills are fueled by small wood pellets, which are available in a variety of woods, and they produce the smoky taste coveted by bar-b-que lovers.

Kids and Kids
Being a traditional county fair, the Clark County Fair has barns full of farm animals, 4H and FFA families and the kind of animal judging that has gone on for decades. I toured the goat barn and saw newly born kids and kids carrying kids (of the goat variety). And, of course, there were very serious kids bringing their fully-grown goats for judging.

baby goata

All kinds of kids were at the Clark County Fair.

Next to that barn were beautiful alpacas and llamas and separate barns for the bunnies, chickens, and ducks. There was a big barn filled with huge cows lounging in the fresh hay with fans blowing overhead. Nothing had changed from my childhood.

Yesterday and Today
The Clark County Fair has a history that parallels the growth of Clark County, Washington. The first fair was held on October 21, 1868 in Esther Short Park in central Vancouver and was sponsored by the Clark County Agricultural and Mechanical Society. From this modest beginning, the fair evolved and grew over time. During WWII, the fair was cancelled and replaced by a Victory Fair, which were popular during the war. In 1955, the Clark County Fair opened in its current location. Today, the Clark County Fair is held every August at the Ridgefield site with an annual attendance of over 270,000 and kicks off with a traditional opening day free pancake breakfast.

While this fair offered rock bands on the main stage and FairCon with gaming and a version of ComiCon, for the most part, it was the typical county fair we all remember… full of baby animals, milkshakes and fried foods. It clearly took me back to a simpler time and left me smiling. – Elizabeth R. Rose, RFT Contributor

green tomato

This weird-looking green tomato won in the odd veggie category.



If You Go

 Where: 17402 N.E. Delfel Road. Ridgefield, Washington

Cost: Adults, $11.25; seniors 62 and older, $9.25; kids 7-12, $8.25; kids 6 and younger, free; parking, $6; C-Tran shuttle, free from six main transfer stations; $1 discount on full gate admission with coupon from shuttle operator. Schedules at


Information: 360-397-6180,


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Elizabeth Rose

Elizabeth Rose, based in the Portland, Oregon area, travels throughout the West and beyond writing about destinations, services, accommodations, events and restaurants. As an expert in cultural tourism, her writing reflects that passion.She has won awards for her photography and accompanies her articles with her own images. She also provides photos for magazine covers, web sites and magazine articles (both print and Internet). Examples can be seen on Fine Art America.When not out exploring, she can be seen at Vancouver, Washington dog parks with Cinnamon the Blogging Coonhound.