By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
Which, then, would be the real state fair?
The answer is neither. And both.
The Puyallup Fair, officially known as the Western Washington Fair, is changing its name effective next year to better reflect its position as the state’s largest fair, said Karen LaFlamme, fair spokeswoman.
“The bottom line is that most people think of us as the Washington State Fair anyway,” LaFlamme said, adding the new name “encompasses all the people from around the state who compete here” in various events.
Some in Snohomish County might disagree.
Snohomish County Parks Director Tom Teigen was measured in his response to the renaming of the Puyallup Fair.
“It was a little surprising,” he said. “It’s interesting and we’re taking pause for a moment. These are all great fairs.”
The county parks department operates the annual Evergreen State Fair in Monroe.
Some states have officially designated state fairs, but there is no such state fair in Washington, Teigen said. Fairs here name themselves.
The state has an organization that oversees fairs, the Washington State Fairs Commission, which operates as part of the state Department of Agriculture. The commission allocates about $1.75 million per year to fairs, but none is designated as the official state fair, agriculture department spokesman Jason Kelly said.
If there were a designation, it would have to be approved by the Legislature, he said.
The money is given to youth fairs, including 4-H agricultural competitions; community fairs, county fairs (such as the Monroe fair) and area fairs, Kelly said.
This year the Evergreen State Fair received nearly $70,000. Last year’s fair revenue was $3.2 million, according to the county. This year’s figures have yet to be released, Teigen said. The fair ran from Aug. 23 to Sept. 3.
The Stanwood-Camano Community Fair, held last month, received just under $10,000, according to figures provided by Kelly.
The commission makes sure fairs meet certain standards before awarding funding, Kelly said.
“They want to ensure that the fairs are being run appropriately and that they’re fulfilling their obligation to educate the public about agriculture,” Kelly said.
The Puyallup Fair is run by a private, nonprofit organization, the Western Washington Fair Association, and does not receive state funding, he said. The fair began Sept. 7 and ends Sunday.
The name change will help the fair in recruiting big-name entertainers, who understand the size and scope of a state fair, LaFlamme said.
“We have had the largest attendance of any fair in the state for decades,” she said.
The fair will still use its famous jingle and tagline, “Do the Puyallup,” pairing it with the new name, LaFlamme said.
The fair drew more than 1 million people in 2011. That same year, Evergreen State Fair had the second-highest attendance at 328,000.
The Puyallup Fair also hosts the state championships in 4-H and Future Farmers of America competitions, LaFlamme said. This is used as a barometer for determining official state fairs in other states, she said.
Teigen said the Evergreen State Fair works closely with the Puyallup Fair on 4-H and other events.
The Evergreen State Fair could make a case for being “the” state fair in ways other than attendance, Teigen said. Snohomish County has the largest 4-H participation in the state and is third or fourth among counties in the nation, according to Teigen.
The Monroe fairgrounds has year-round attractions such as the Western Heritage Museum, motor sports events at the Evergreen Speedway and equestrian shows.
“I’d just be interested in knowing what the barometer would be,” Teigen said.
The fairs all “are a slice of Americana and an important part of our history and a connection to our history and agricultural roots, and we value that,” he said. “But we take a pause.”
This isn’t the first time the Puyallup Fair has switched names.
It started out in 1900 as the Valley Fair, a three-day event aimed at promoting the Puyallup Valley’s agriculture, horticulture, mining and manufacturing industries.
In 1913, it became the Western Washington Fair, and more than 60 years later, in 1976, fair officials began marketing it as the Puyallup Fair, LaFlamme said.
The Evergreen State Fair has its roots in the Monroe District Fair, first held in 1903, according to the Monroe Historical Society website. That fair later became the Snohomish County Fair and, in 1949, the Evergreen State Fair.
Herald writer Noah Haglund and Sara Schilling of the Tacoma News-Tribune contributed to this report.
Bill Sheets; 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.