MAYOR'S BEAT | Fairgrounds plan is a vision of hope, possibility

Our family loves the Island County Fair, now called the Whidbey Island Fair. Our children enjoy taking their children on the rides when they can go together.

Our grandchildren have memories of riding the carnival rides — like the airplanes, boats, and cars — and walking from our home in Langley to see the exhibits and listen to the performances. They got to ride their first real horse here.

We like to experience the ambiance that is the essence of the fair experience. We like throwing baseballs at metal milk bottles and going into mirrored houses.

We like to eat elephant ears and cotton candy and barbecue from the various vendors. We like to see teenagers free to roam the grounds, ride the rides, and act older and independent. We like the enthusiastic and sometimes funny musical performances. We are impressed with the courtesy of the 4-H kids who have raised their own animals and trained them and can tell you all about the experience. We have marveled at the logging exhibits, the pole climbers, and a full-sized automobile engine made into a chain saw.

My wife was a barrel racer in the rodeo in her hometown in Idaho. I am a city boy. We have owned a small part of the family farm in Idaho and quarter horses here in Washington. We inherited a brand that is a heart with a “P” in the middle for grandpa and grandma’s cattle.

We have seen the love and care of the adult leaders of 4-H and the amazing crafts that come from the often hidden talents of local people. We would never want to see these treasured memories go away. These are experiences rooted in the American way of life.

I find myself torn between wanting this iconic fair to go on the way it is forever, or at least far into the future, yet knowing that it is at a transition point where it is destined to change or disappear. The plans that were developed with expert and experienced facilitation, superb technical skill, and involvement of a broad-based group of community leaders are not being presented as the only answer.

Could there be a win/win situation in the challenge that lies before us? Is there a way to preserve all that we have come to enjoy that constitutes the fair experience and also generate revenue from the property during the times when the fair isn’t in operation and when the equestrian families are not using the whole property?

Could a car show, and a craft show, and an outdoor symphonic concert happen on the same weekend? Could the fairgrounds generate significant revenue for an economy that is rebounding off the ropes slower than some other parts of the state and country? Could the “Hope Riding Program” be preserved and the needs of the horse riders be met as well as the families whose antiques remind them of such treasured family memories?

Could the people who love the intimate size and scale of the small animal areas be taken into consideration? Could the RV Park scale up for large motor homes and scale down to accommodate horses tied to trailers in a wagon circle around a campfire?

Could weekend markets be consolidated into a large grass festival area adjacent to an artistic covered space in case it rained? Could the unsold produce from the farms be refrigerated and trucked up or off island for sale? Could there be a light industrial area where wood workers, metal workers and various tradespeople make, and teach, and sell, and tell how their craft developed over time?

Could the removal of structures proceed at a rate that would gradually let go of the past while moving strategically into a better, more flexible, and economically viable future of more inviting structures and spaces?

Could the economic numbers be scale down slightly to fit with a less aggressive phase-in to build-out? Could this be done and result in a compromise that invites ownership and support rather than competition between interests and winners and losers?

The answer to these questions should be yes, if it’s the right thing to do.

Fred McCarthy is the mayor of Langley and was a member of the steering committee that developed the fair plan.


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