Jefferson County Fair back after two-year hiatus

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PORT TOWNSEND – Layla Franson experienced two troubling events during the Covid lockdown: the death of her cat and the death of her horse.

The animals were not only the 15-year-old’s companions, but crucial to her involvement in 4H, the Washington State University-administered youth program that is a centerpiece of the fairs counties across the state that have been closed during the pandemic.

This weekend, Franson and the Jefferson County Fair are back for the first time since 2019 – Franson, with a new horse, Jackson, and two new cats, and the fair after two years in which his fairgrounds was primarily known for its large homeless encampment. , rather than as a showcase of the region’s agricultural heritage.

Friday was the first day of the fair at 4907 Landes St.

It continues today and Sunday. Doors open at 8 a.m. Doors close at 8 p.m. today and 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Day passes are $8 for adults 18-64, $7 for active duty military, $6 for seniors 65 and older and youth 13-17, and 2 $ for children 6 to 12 years old. Children 5 and under are admitted free.

Vendors, demonstrations, 4H events follow one another throughout the show. Today there will also be draft horse pulls at 3 p.m.; Mud trails 4 by 4 are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

For Franson, returning to the fair and 4H competition this year was a return to normal.

“It’s really nice to get back into things,” said Franson, who will be a sophomore at Chimacum High School in the fall. “I was wondering whether or not I wanted to get a new horse after my old horse died, but I’m glad I did.”

But Franson is one of the few members of the Jefferson County 4H club returning to this year’s fair. There were only seven competitors in his showmanship class – down from 20 in 2019. The number was so small that all three 4H age categories – junior, intermediate and senior – appeared in the ring at the same time.

Overall 4H membership is down in the county and across the state, said Jefferson County 4-H coordinator Sarah Pederson.

In addition to the horse division, beef and dairy, poultry, rabbits, cats, small livestock such as tins and goats and home economics saw declines. Some clubs, such as dog, archery and reptiles have not been revived.

Much of the blame can be placed on Covid, Pederson said.

“Most 4H clubs in Washington have been extremely impacted by the pandemic,” Pederson said.

“Volunteer retention was an issue, and it impacted the number of children who can participate.

4H volunteers were required to show proof of vaccinations and many simply chose to walk away from the program instead, Pederson said.

Chris Franson, a longtime 4H leader and Layla Franson’s grandmother, said other issues also contributed to the drop in membership.

“We weren’t able to hold any of our events, like horse shows and fun days where we had games and costume contests, and we didn’t have seminars or horse camps,” Chris Franson said. “The more events you have, the more kids want to participate.”

Additionally, Franson said, some 4H members older than the program (which is capped at 18) and others have simply lost interest. The mere fact that the fair did not take place for two years was another blow to the horse racing program.

“The fair is the highlight of the year for 4H,” said Chris Franson. “Without the fair, it’s not that much fun.”

This fall, Jefferson County 4H will actively recruit volunteers, reach out to the community to introduce the program and offer volunteer workshops, Pederson said.

“We need to do a better job of promoting ourselves as an organization that promotes positive youth development and adult mentorship,” Pederson said. “It’s not just cattle, cooking and sewing.”

Talia Sodano, 17, said she never considered leaving 4H even when club meetings were held on Zoom and there was no Jefferson County Fair to prepare with her mare Palomino 26 years old, Zipper.

“It was really hard not being able to compete, but my heart has always been to be in 4H,” said Sodano, 17, who will be a senior at Chimacum High School this fall.

“It feels like my first year at the fair, so I’m a little nervous, but in a good way.”

For more information, visit jeffersoncountyfairgrounds.com.

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Journalist Paula Hunt can be reached at [email protected]



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