Reinventing tradition at the fairgrounds

Washington County fairgrounds receiving much-needed face-lift

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The Washington County Fair is in for a face-lift. Between the building makeovers and entertainment alterations, a revamp is occurring at the heart of the fairgrounds.


The Harry Hank Show Arena hosts the fair’s featured activities, including livestock exhibits and contests throughout fair week, this year from Aug. 9 through 16.


“It’s where everything happens,” Sandra Hodgens, the fairgrounds office secretary, said. The arena’s namesake, Harry Hank, was the first fair manager. Hank lived in a trailer on the fairgrounds during the late 1970s.


After decades of being rented, boarding horses and hosting the fair’s main attractions, the show arena is in need of repair.


“The last few years, it’s kind of been ugly. The tin’s starting to rust, and it’s got some holes in it,” said Todd Richards, fair board president.


Renovations to the arena began in early June with the help of board members, fair exhibitors and volunteers. The crew is on schedule to replace the wood siding and door, as well as construct a walkway by fair week – weather permitting. As of early July, new siding has been installed along the arena’s right side.


“Restoring that building is going to make it a more marketable feature for the fairgrounds.” Richards explained.


“If (the arena) is more attractive, it could very well get used more.”


Richards estimates the project will cost $20,000, considering the price of lumber, framing materials and paint. Money for the renovation has been collected from sponsorships established by the board.


This is not the first speedy spruce job to be completed on the fairgrounds. Last summer, a “mini-tornado” tore the roof off the market hog barn, and necessary repairs were completed with just a little over a month to go before the fair.


The board’s yearlong plan extends beyond the arena’s entrance. It hopes to raise money for a livestock barn attachment. The show arena’s addition would ease traffic flow at the fair by allowing market animals displayed in the arena to remain close by instead of traveling through the crowd from other barns.


In order to fund the expansion, Chad McGowan, fair board vice president, said the board would post signs sponsored by local businesses in the show arena during the week of the fair.


“Businesses or logos will be posted all week long for everybody to see, and will be held up there for a three-year period,” he said.


Companies will be given the option to renew their advertising spot when three years elapse.


The fair also is hosting fresh attractions this year, including the Washington County Firefighter Challenge.


This summer, on the fair’s first day, volunteer and paid firefighters receive free admission. The board is arranging for local stations to parade their trucks in a contest.


After the 4 p.m. contest, the Firefighter Challenge will be held in the grandstand at 7:30 p.m. The competition carries cash prizes and bragging rights for firefighters entered in the obstacle course.


The new headliner is only one aspect of the evolving fair tradition.


“That’s one problem I always hear every year,” McGowan said. “‘(The fair) does the same thing over and over. You need to try something new.’”


McGowan added that there will be a greater variety in live acts in the show tent, featuring bands that have never performed at the fair.


“We just want to switch things up.” McGowan said. “Change is good, you hear.”


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