Looking forward to the 94th annual Bonner County Fair
By Abigail Thorpe
Photo Courtesy of Amy Peterson, Selkirk Ridge Photography
In 1927, Sandpoint celebrated its first county fair, held from September 30 to October 1. It was sponsored by the Sandpoint Kiwanis Club, who felt Bonner County needed its own county fair and had hopes it would evolve into an annual tradition.
Fast forward 93 years, and the fair remains an exciting and anticipated annual tradition that people in the community look forward to attending year after year. The first year, 20 communities participated in the fair, which was held at the original grounds at War Memorial Park. The fair would go through a few years of being 4-H only during the Second World War but over time would develop and grow, and sustain itself as a beloved—and well recognized—exhibition of local farmers, growers, crafters and bakers.
In 1960, the fair purchased property on North Boyer Avenue, and slowly the fairgrounds were developed there—where they remain to this day. This year’s event—themed “Oink, Moo, Ewe!”—will be held Wednesday, August 19, through Saturday, August 22.
This year, the Bonner County Museum and Historical Society will be at the fair with a booth in the Main Exhibit Building, displaying the history of the Bonner County Fair. Attendees interested in learning more about the unique small-town history of the fair—and the many participants who went on to display their goods or skills and compete on the national level in places like Chicago—can stop by the booth for a short and entertaining trip down memory lane.
Fires and other destruction from weather and natural occurrences took its toll on the fairgrounds in the ‘60s. “The Bonner County Fair had several different homes until it landed permanently at its current location in the early ‘70s,” explains Bonner County Fair Director Darcey Smith. “Slowly over the years, the livestock buildings have been built due to many thanks of our local families and businesses for their fundraising and donated time.”
It is not just the buildings we have to thank our local families and businesses for. Every year, there are countless volunteers and workers who make the fair possible, and at its heart the fair would not be what it is without the many families and individuals who contribute their skills, industry and goods to make the fair the amazing celebration of North Idaho agricultural heritage that it is.
“This is the one place where our county can come together to enjoy displaying their hard work through 4-H livestock projects, their static exhibits and for good quality wholesome entertainment, and of course food,” says Smith.
The fair has become an integral part of the Sandpoint community, bringing families together every year to share their projects and celebrate our heritage. It’s not work for those who attend each year. “This is a vacation for a lot of Bonner County families,” explains Smith. “The annual trek to the fair is a highly anticipated event. They get to continue their families’ traditions and make wonderful memories of their own.”
Every year hundreds of 4-H livestock projects are displayed at the fair. Each youth spends an entire year raising the animal, preparing it for the time it will go to fair. “These projects teach these kids life lessons that they will carry with them for life,” says Smith. “At the end of fair these livestock animals are sold during the market sale, and most are sent to local butchers. These animal sales help our local economy by supporting local businesses and providing good quality meats.”
Local businesses like Super 1 Foods often purchase from 4-H youth to supply their grocery stores, keeping the quality meat in the local community and supporting the fair families and 4-H participants.
Besides providing quality produce and meat to local markets, the fair supports the local economy by bringing in visitors from all around who contribute to local businesses.
This year’s fair will open at 10am on August 19, and fairgoers can look forward to a Thursday night “Summer Nights” concert featuring Miah Kohal Band and Devon Wade from 7:30 to 9:30 in the Outdoor Arena.
In addition to the many exhibits and livestock shows, there will be food vendors, exciting carnival rides, Cecil’s magic show, a hay bale maze and the Lehman Wildlife Education Center.
Enjoy the wild entertainment of the Challenge of Champions Bull Riding on Friday, and then return Saturday for some family fun at the Demolition Derby.
The Fair Royalty King & Queen Crowning ceremony will be held on Wednesday, when you can watch this year’s chosen king and queen receive their crowns—a tradition since the first queen in 1964, and the first king in 1967.
Fun and hilarious contests will take place throughout the weekend, from a beard contest to a cast-iron skillet throwing contest and best mac-n-cheese contest. Enter for your chance to become 2020’s proud owner of the “Best Of” title.
Despite current COVID-19 health concerns, as of print time the fair is still expected to go ahead as scheduled. “We have very responsible citizens that want to keep our little slice of heaven safe and healthy,” says Smith. The fair board is doing their best to keep fairgoers, the community and exhibitors safe by providing additional hand-washing stations, hand sanitizer units in every building, and masks and gloves to all volunteers and superintendents. “We will have several volunteers spraying sanitizer on all hard surfaces during our fair and evening events. I have been in communication with our County Commissioners, County Emergency Management, County EMS to stay on top of the latest news and make sure that we are making the most responsible decisions,” she adds.
Should the worst happen, and the fair is forced to cancel its regularly planned activities, they would plan something similar to what others have done to still allow 4-H kids to show their animals and make a sale, but the exhibits for the public and entertainment events would be canceled, says Smith. “I certainly hope we are not put in the position to cancel. ...I am doing my best to make sure we have a healthy, safe and fun fair.”
The fairgrounds is home to many other activities and events throughout the year besides the Bonner County Fair. The PRCA Rodeo takes place August 14 and 15, and other events including a 4-H Archery Contest and Turn N’ Burn Horse Play Day will be held throughout the month.
For a list of upcoming events and updates on the 2020 Bonner County Fair, visit BonnerCountyFair.com