Fair Stays True to Agricultural Roots
Every August, the Northwest Washington Fair rounds up a happy hubbub of Whatcom County at its most wholesome: rides and rodeo, horse shows and hyp-notists, cows and country music — top-notch, true-to-tradition agritainment. It’s a rich heritage: Legendary singer Loretta Lynn, then a Sumas resident, got her start at the fair, winning a blue ribbon for her preserves and first singing at the grandstand in 1982. People still talk about the 1997 concert where superstar Garth Brooks secretly flew to Bellingham and astounded a lucky crowd of 2,000 when he took to the grandstand stage to sing with future wife Trisha Yearwood.
In the old days, every school in the county closed so kids could attend the fair, which was held then in September after harvesting. Early fairs included typewriting contests, ostrich races, log rolling, butter-and-egg parades, barnstorm-ing biplanes and thoroughbred racing.
Today there’s the popular demolition derby, and scream-til-you-drop fun on the roller coaster (nothing keeps a kid happier than an all-day ride band — save $5 if you purchase it online ahead of time). You’ll find a heady mix of midway games, wool-spinning demonstrations, yodelers, barrel racing, hot tubs and haybalers on sale.
This year, the fair is offering a new ride carnival with bigger rides, says fair manager Jim Baron. The kids’ carnival will be moved closer to the big carnival and the old kiddie-ride area will be used for parking.
You can learn a lot at the fair: Llama judging, anyone? It’s hard to choose between cat first aid or rooster-crowing contests, but with six fun-filled days the fair has nearly a week of wonders in store. The crafts alone will explode your Pinterest board: lace, Lego fantasies, floral displays, ceramics, paintings and handmade quilts.
Make sure to head for the Agriculture Adventure Center, which was started as Farm for Life in 2002. Here you can coo over newborn chicks and piglets (shades of “Charlotte’s Web”), “milk” Twister the Cow or predict when a pregnant sow will farrow, or give birth. (Did you know pigs gestate for three months, three weeks and three days?) Kids of all ages are entranced — and educated. In fact, Baron says, the fair is completing fundraising to leverage $1.8 million in state funding to build an agriculture education center. Set to begin construction this fall, it will house exhibits and preserve local history.
The fair has been held on the same 20 Lynden acres since its 1911 debut. What makes it special was a deter-mined choice by its board in the 1980s to stay local and not go theme-park. Commercial exhibits were limited to 30 percent of the footage and entry fees are still kept low to encourage participation. While other fairs have gone more commercial, bringing in glitzy entertainment and profit-focused vendors, our fair stays agri-centric, keeping its down-home heritage front and center.
So it’s only natural that this year’s fair slogan is “Rooted in agriculture.” In years past, there was 1978’s “It’s a horsey, bossy, piggy fair,” “The place to be, the fair to see, in ’93” and 1987’s “Oink, Moo! Quack! The fair is back.”
Whatever its pitch, there’s no better place to see Whatcom County’s farm, family and fun spirit in action.
Then & Now
Whatcom County Population
1910 – 50,000
2018 – 221,000
1950 – 22,000
2009 – 214,301
1970 – $2
2018 – $13
- 1911: First fair held, called Nooksack Valley Produce Fair
- 1922: Name changed to the Northwest Washington Fair
- 1932: Original grandstand burns down
- 1939: Grandstand rebuilt
- 1954: First traffic light north of Bellingham installed in Ferndale
- 1969: Women allowed to join Future Farmers of America
- 1971: First year sheep exhibited at the fair.
- 1978: First demolition derby
- 1980: Moo-Wich created by Whatcom County Dairy Women
- 1990: Clock tower built at fair
- 1991: Fair racetrack removed
- 2000: Fair website debuts
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