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Earlier fair might beat the heat

The Jackson County Fair will start slightly earlier this year, lessening the risk that the annual extravaganza at The Expo in Central Point could be hurt by summer wildfires and smoke.

“This coming summer, we’re the closest we will ever be to the Fourth of July,” said Helen Funk, director of The Expo.

The fair will run from July 10-14 in 2019, compared to July 12-16 in 2017 and July 11-15 in 2018.

On July 15, 2018, Southern Oregon was blasted with late-morning lightning strikes that sparked at least 145 fires. The fires filled the skies with smoke into the fall.

The lightning storm forced a pause in fair operations on the last day of its 2018 season.

Carnival rides didn’t start until 2 p.m., and even with that family favorite in full operation, many people hunkered down and decided not to go out to the fair on the last day — which is usually a strong day for attendance, Funk said.

Attendance for 2017 was 66,326, but that number dipped to 58,684 in 2018, she said.

Fair revenue was $1.12 million in 2017 and $1.032 million in 2018, according to figures from Jackson County Finance Director Shannon Bell.

The Expo as a whole closed out its fiscal year last summer in the black with an ending fund balance of $461,470. Its current fund balance is $536,782.

That figure could fluctuate before the close of the county’s fiscal year June 30.

Previously dependent on Jackson County for financial support, The Expo is now a self-supporting department of the county with year-round events.

The entertainment lineup for the Jackson County Fair this summer includes country music singer Chris Janson, America’s Got Talent winner and ventriloquist Darci Lynn, pop singer Andy Grammer, rock band Seether and hypnotist Richard Barker.

Activities include animal exhibits, a mechanical bull, pig racing and pedal-powered tractors.

Fair Board of Directors member J.B. Dimick said the board and staff at The Expo are planning ahead for possible weather or wildfire impacts to the fair.

“But the big thing that we have to realize is life is going to happen,” he said. “We have to plan and we have to prepare and make sure that we produce a county fair that this community expects. And if there is smoke, we deal with that.”

If the area is affected by wildfire smoke or excessive heat, Dimick said, fair officials encourage people to take a break and visit many of the fair activities located inside air-conditioned buildings at The Expo.

Funk said the board and Expo staff are continuing to research hot new trends in fairs so the local fair can continue to evolve into the future, while still respecting the importance of agriculture in the Rogue Valley.

“The fair itself is strong. We continue to become more and more advanced in the things that we’re doing,” she said.

For more information on the fair, see attheexpo.com.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Carnival rides light up the nights at the 2018 Jackson County Fair in Central Point. This year's fair will run July 10-14.Mail Tribune file photo