After two years in the new facility, it is glaringly obvious that the only things the Umatilla County Fair Board are interested in are the carnival and rodeo.
I don’t have any acquaintance with the livestock show portion, so won’t comment on that. But stuffing exhibits formerly housed in Thompson, Price and Hoeft halls into the undersized “Event Center” shows exactly what the board thinks about these former mainstays of rural county fairs. They have shortchanged everyone who enters any non-animal displays.
Fine arts, creative arts, photography, needlecraft, clothing, foods, and creative kids entries are all smashed together in hallways and corridors. Open class clothing is not so much displayed as just shelved. Neither the creators who entered their work nor the people who, once upon a time, came to the fair specifically to see these examples of fine craftsmanship can see anything beyond perhaps a square of folded fabric.
The board’s attempts to kill these categories so that they don’t have to bother with them any more have pretty well succeeded. “Don’t worry about these displays — nobody enters them any more.” That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. And when the makers go away, the lookers go away.
But the board doesn’t care, obviously, because they’ve still got a carnival that blows into town, sucks thousands of dollars out of local pockets, and goes down the road to the next little village hungry for overpriced “thrill” rides and greasy food. Local food booths, by and large, are either in remote parts of the grounds (out by the livestock barns) or behind the fence around the rodeo grounds — so if you have mobility issues that make it difficult to get across the carnival area, or if you can’t afford the price of a rodeo ticket, that means you don’t get to support your local service organizations by buying a meal or beverage from them.
The rodeo is a fine event and draws top-quality competitors and stock ... but the rodeo really doesn’t need the fair. (What it needs is a way to get attendees out of the parking lot at the end of the show in less than 45 minutes, but I digress.)
The citizens of Umatilla County in general, and Hermiston in particular, have been royally hornswoggled by this white elephant of an Event Center, whose backers promised pie in the sky and delivered little more than a pocket full of crumbs.