Numbers haven’t been announced, but The Evergreen State Fair likely set a record this year for attendance during its 12-day run this year, beating its previous record from last year of more than 350,000 visitors.
Concern that the Washington State Fair — formerly known as “The Puyallup” — might siphon off some attendance with its move last year to a similar schedule as the Evergreen at the Monroe fairgrounds didn’t come to pass. And the Puyallup fair has since moved back to a Labor Day weekend start.
As the summer festival season draws to a close, that’s good news for one of Snohomish County’s signature events. The future is less certain for some smaller community festivals in the county.
This weekend is the 53rd year of the Mukilteo Lighthouse Festival. But that longevity isn’t a guarantee the light will stay lit for a festival that this year will entertain crowds with a parade, music, food, art, fireworks, a fishing derby and its — best name ever for a fun run — Run-A-Muk 5K and 10K.
As The Herald’s Andrea Brown reported Wednesday, the Mukilteo festival is facing uncertain finances this year. This year’s budget is about $260,000. The festival ran a deficit of $15,000 last year, which was plugged through a grant from the city’s lodging tax fund.
Unlike a state fair that can corral attendees into a fairgrounds and charge admission, collecting gate revenue isn’t feasible for many community events, such as the Lighthouse Fest — centered as it is around the city-owned Lighthouse Park, a former state park transferred to Mukilteo in 2003.
This year, the festival will cut costs by renting fewer portable toilets and offering only one night of fireworks rather than two.
So the festival’s nonprofit association has issued a request for financial support and volunteers. (There’s a Go Fund Me account seeking to raise $25,000.)
One of the events that launches each year’s festival season in the county, the Marysville Strawberry Festival, marked its 87th year this June. But it, too, has struggled recently, in part because of a ridiculous agreement foisted on its board by a festival organization official prior to his resignation. The agreement was declared illegal in late July by a Snohomish County judge.
Mark Jensen of Woodinville, former vice president for the Maryfest Board of Directors, had forced an agreement on the board last year that, in exchange for his resignation, required the board to black-ball six other former board members — volunteers who had previously delivered important sponsorships — and arranged to award him $175,000 if Maryfest ever failed to meet his demands. It also coerced a $10,000 donation from the festival to a charity fund that Jensen ran.
The forced agreement was so egregious, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who challenged it in court with the blessing of the current board, called it “outrageous, self-serving and illegal.”
Judge Eric Lucas agreed, throwing out the pact and ordering the return of the $10,000 “donation” to Maryfest.
The Strawberry Festival went on this June as planned, serving up shortcake and more to an estimated 100,000.
But organizers told The Herald in April that the festival would cost about $260,000 this year and would have to use a significant amount from its reserves to operate.
Everett has been without its long-running summer festival, Salty Sea Days, since 2004 after its organization lost an annual $70,000 contribution from the city’s lodging tax fund in 2003.
Not that Everett has gone without fairs and festivals since then. The city enjoys evening concerts throughout the summer, its Colors of Freedom Fourth of July, Sorticulture and more, in addition to the Fisherman’s Village Music Festival in the spring.
But the community festivals throughout the county, valued as much by local residents as they are by visitors, now must view support from local governments as only a part of their pot of funding as the county and cities own finances tighten.
That leaves the bulk of the support up to business and individual sponsors, private donations and the valuable contribution of volunteer hours. That support will be key to continuing those festivals, concerts and other events.
Festivals give communities a chance to celebrate, entertain and enjoy the food, music, culture, art and more that are found in those communities. Go and have a good time and give them a few bucks.