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Whatcom County Youth Fair celebrates 25 years

Apr 3rd, 2013 | Category: Features

by Jessica Harbert

The Whatcom Youth Fair is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, held April 5-6 at the Northwest Washington Fair Grounds in Lynden.

For youth ages 6 to 18, the Fair consists of two days of learning within 28 different divisions. These range in topics from animals, including rabbits, goats, dairy and poultry, to horticulture, weaving, and knitting, and even chess. For kids interested in starting their own business, there’s an entrepreneurship division for that, too.

The fair creates community in a variety of ways for the participants, not only within Whatcom County but amongst the fair circuit, allowing kids to see familiar faces at the state fair and future events, said Fair Manager Chris Paul.

“I want kids to go home feeling good about what they have learned and accomplished,” she said. “I want kids who want to come.”

Kids attend the youth fair from Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, Clallam, King and Island Counties. In the past, people have traveled from as far as Idaho and Ellensburg, as well as parts of Canada. Another youth fair is held in Chehalis, Washington, and provided some inspiration for the creation of the Whatcom Youth Fair in 1989.

Youth Fair participants learn how to properly handle livestock and domestic animals, gather for learning games like chess, and more. PHOTOS COURTESY OF WHATCOM COUNTY YOUTH FAIR/CHRIS PAUL

“We wanted ours to be unique,” said Paul, a founding member of the Youth Fair, and previously a 4-H leader. (Her mother and daughter were also 4-H leaders.)

The first fair was a Washington State Centennial Event, held at the Everson Auction Barn. There were 100 entries. The fair, a non-profit organization, recorded its highest attendance in 2001 wit 765 participants.

Twenty-five years later, what continues to make the Whatcom Youth Fair different from other fairs is that prize money is not awarded to the participants. The kids receive awards and ribbons, and Paul said the fair hopes to encourage kids to attend and learn skills they then take home.

Each division has a super that organizes the classes, either planning the material to teach the class themselves or organizing speakers to present information. Many supers are teenagers, often those who have been involved in the teen leadership division of the youth fair in past years. Each division has an element of competition, determined by the super, but the competition level is low compared with other youth fairs.

“Having projects to take care of is pretty important,” Paul said. “It teaches responsibility, passion and working together as a family. It teaches work ethic.” The goal is each young person goes home with all the tools they need to do the project they did at the youth fair, Paul said.

Felting is a new division, started last year because a teen involved with the fair requested the division, and asked if she could teach it. The chess division was begun as a teen’s senior project.

The dairy division is the largest and most competitive, due to the large dairy industry in Whatcom County. Children are not required to have their own animals to be a part of the animal divisions, Paul said, adding participants can “beg and borrow.”

Spectators are encouraged to come and watch fair participant show their animals and projects.

“It is good for people to see all these good kids actively doing something,” Paul said.

New to the fair this year is a rodeo camp hosted by the PRCA Championship Rodeo. The Youth Fair was selected from 120 rodeo towns that requested the youth camp. Only 20 locations were selected, Paul said. The kids will learn bull and bronc riding on gentle horses and a mechanical bull, and also learn roping skills.

“These kids will rope anything,” Paul said. “And when you have 60 kids with ropes, you can only imagine.”

In addition, the youth fair has a scholarship program to aid participants with their higher education. The Jay Paul Scholarship and Mark Stap Scholarship were both created in the memory of two sons who passed away; their parents are involved in the fair, including Paul.

A number of awards will be presented, including the Rich Waldemar and Bob Veenstra Inspirational Awards, the Washington State Fairs Association award for best division, and top youth awards. The fair volunteers are also recognized for their work.

For more information, visit whatcomcountyyouthfair.webs.com or visit the Facebook page. The youth fair is held at Northwest Washington Fair Grounds, Equine Events Center, on Friday, April 5 and Saturday, April 6 from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Spectators welcome. Late entries are accepted and go on a waiting list for any participants who cancel.

Youth Fair auctions

Project Animal Consignment Auction: On Friday, April 5 at 5:30 p.m. quality starter project animals will be auctioned to youth interested in acquiring a project animal. Catalogs and details available at the Youth Fair or from Larry Stap by calling (360) 354-4105.

Silent Auction: Look for the auction in the horse barn. It will be open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and from 10 a.m. Saturday until the final bids are taken at 2 p.m. All proceeds from the auction help put on next years Youth Fair. To donate items, please contact Jeff or Kathie Peterson at (360) 354-5978.

Published in the April 2013 issue of Grow Northwest

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