People wait in line for amusement park tickets at the Evergreen State Fair on Aug. 26 in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

People wait in line for amusement park tickets at the Evergreen State Fair on Aug. 26 in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

At limited capacity, Evergreen State Fair draws 181,000

Organizers say this year’s visitors enjoyed experiencing the fair with “a little more shoulder room.”

MONROE — It was an Evergreen State Fair unlike any other, with masks required indoors and hand washing stations scattered across the grounds.

But it was good to be back, Snohomish County Parks Director Jeremy Husby said Tuesday.

“A lot of our superintendents were almost in tears, just being back at a fair, and making eye contact with people, in person,” he said. “I think that was extremely valuable.”

Over 11 days in August and September, 181,229 people walked through the gates to eat classic fair foods, play games, get up close to goats, horses, pigs and other animals, as well as see lumberjack shows, monster trucks and an Elvis impersonator.

This year’s attendance was a little more than half of 2019’s total, Husby said.

“That’s kind of what we were targeting with a lower capacity,” he said.

Each day, staff monitored capacity to ensure social distancing could be maintained on the fairgrounds.

There was no set limit on visitors, but on two occasions, they closed the gates to prevent overcrowding.

“It’s very difficult to gauge capacity,” Husby said. “When we knew we were at a place to shut down, it’s a tough decision, but we did it twice and it actually was really successful.”

Lilian Lentz (left), 6, and Daphne Lentz (right), 4, help clean horses for Morning View Farm during opening day of the Evergreen State Fair on Aug. 26 in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Lilian Lentz (left), 6, and Daphne Lentz (right), 4, help clean horses for Morning View Farm during opening day of the Evergreen State Fair on Aug. 26 in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

When inside, visitors enjoyed the extra room to walk around, he added. In previous years, Sundays at the fair often meant attendees were shoulder-to-shoulder when walking around the grounds.

They also enjoyed the free parking, which could become a perennial feature.

“It was a revenue hit, but I think the value it gave our customers was remarkable,” he said. “I think it speaks volumes to how we treat our customers.”

Across Washington, counties have reckoned with hosting fairs during COVID’s fifth wave.

In Snohomish County, staff opted for limited capacity with safety protocols like masks when indoors.

Others went full bore.

The Grant County Fair shattered its previous attendance record, with this year’s daily average of visitors up nearly 50% from 2019, leaders announced.

Alex Markiel sits with her dog Sabre and reads during opening day of the Evergreen State Fair on Aug. 26 in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Alex Markiel sits with her dog Sabre and reads during opening day of the Evergreen State Fair on Aug. 26 in Monroe. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Earlier this month, the state Department of Health listed the Grant County Fair as one of five recent COVID super spreader events across the state.

The Whatcom County Fair was also reported as a super spreader, with more than 160 cases linked to the event, The Bellingham Herald reported.

The state’s three other known super spreader events included two music festivals at the Gorge Amphitheatre — Watershed and Bass Canyon — as well as the Omak Stampede.

In Snohomish County, no outbreaks have been connected to the fair, health officer Dr. Chris Spitters said.

But with overall virus transmission so high, it’s hard to sort out where cases are coming from, he added.

“Certainly, if we get a signal, we’ll share the information,” Spitters said.

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; jthompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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