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Sonoma Marin County Fair Celebrates 80 years of Fun
Fairgrounds 50-year lease to expire in 2023
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There are no less than 5 fairs in the Sonoma area, but the Sonoma Marin Fair stands out for its special events and this year’s celebration “Eight Decades of Fun” which pays tribute to the fair’s 80th anniversary.

The theme revisited eras stretching from the 1940s to the present, from local farming to popular food, the art movement of the 60s, and crafts and culture.

The fair’s wide variety of attractions included a carnival, from Midway of Fun with 27 rides; pig races, a safari adventure, and Agventure Land – which celebrated all things agricultural. Entertainment included arts and crafts, strolling jugglers and clowns, livestock shows, cooking demos, and a destruction derby. A petting zoo took place at Clo’s Kids Corner. Clo is the whimsical costumed cow/mascot who was also celebrating a milestone: her 50th birthday. The cow figure tells puns and watches over free ice cream treats distributed and donated by Clover Sonoma. Each fair day at 2:30 p.m., fair attendees sang the iconic figure Happy Birthday at her “celebration station.”

The fair’s best known event is the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest, now in its 28th year. In fact, this event essentially put the fair on the map, as a unique anti-beauty contest that is also a heart-warmer. This year’s winner was Scamp the Tramp, who beat out 17 other canines for the title. The dog was rescued off the streets of Compton, Calif., and now lives in the far more bucolic Santa Rosa. He also lives a life of service, his fair bio said, his grey dreadlocks enhancing his role as a therapist dog at the Sebastopol Senior Center. Scamp and his owner took home a $1500 prize, with another $1500 to be donated to a local animal shelter. Owner Yvonne Morones also netted a trip for the pair to appear on the Today Show. 

According to fair spokesperson Christy Gentry, “What we're really doing is we're showcasing dogs that have been rescued and adopted and brought into loving homes…These are sort of spokesdogs for adoption.”

Not only pups and their owners took away prizes this year. The fair gave away some $35,000 in awards and scholarships, for students in agriculture, as well as those working in arts and crafts, fine art, floriculture, foods, industrial education and computer science.

Allison Keaney, Sonoma-Marin Fair CEO says “Many of the sponsors of scholarships and awards do so as a tribute to one of their family members who made a lasting impact in the community. They honor the legacy of these individuals, while encouraging the same excellence in the next generation.”

New this year, the fair added an exhibit competition, The Agribusiness Showcase, for FFA chapters to create a showcase display in one of the livestock barns.

New events this year included the Mooseum, a showcase of the fair’s history and that of Clo the cow; the Jurassic Park/Dinosaur Kingdoms exhibit with dino-centric animatronics; and Steam activities at the KidZgen Lab.

The Tambourine Vaulters, acrobats on horseback, and the Eurobungy ride, positioned separately from the carnival itself, were also new and prominent additions to the fair. The Eurobungy offered a flipping and spinning experience simulating the thrill of bungy jumping, and was a popular attraction.

There were new carnival rides as well, including a mini-Himalya; Dumbo the Elephant, Jalopy Junction, and Minon Mayhem. Rides were provided by Midway of Fun/Brass Ring Amusements, which is headquartered in Fair Oaks, Calif.

Live music was also a draw, including Loverboy; Roots & Boots 90’s Electric Throwdown with Sammy Kershaw, Aaron Tippin and Collin Raye; Lifehouse; and David Lee Murphy.

Other activities included a popular Taste of the North Gate Wine Tasting, and Sprint Car Racing.

Adding to the fair’s draw this year were special admission offers, such as Kid’s Day on June 19th, when every attendee enjoyed the $12 kids entrance price before 5 p.m. On Senior’s Day, June 20, attendees over 65 received $6 admission all day; Heroes Day, on the 21st provided $15 admission for law, fire, and military personnel. Regular gate admission was $18 for adults, $12 for kids and seniors. Online advance ticketing was $15 and $10 respectively. Attendance hovered close to 65,000 this year.

There were special days beyond pricing discounts throughout the fair’s 5-day run. On Saturday, Farmers Day included a pig scramble, a cow milking contest, and the Marin vs. Sonoma tug of war game. Sunday, Family Day, brought a Latin flavor to the music on stage, and the destruction derby provided the closing day’s wrecking finale.

Favorite food items included deep-fried Snickers, fresh lemonade, and the Oregon Berry Cobbler from the Wilamette Valley Pie company, a treat filled with marionberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and boysenberries.

On the horizon for the future is a question about the fair’s location. The fairgrounds’ 50-year lease is expiring in 2023. Petaluma city manager Peggy Flynn says “As Petalumans, we can figure out a creative solution that honors our history and also looks for our needs for the future.” Under Petaluma’s general plan, at least 20 acres of the 61-acre fairgrounds must be retained as parkland. City officials are pursuing an agreement that would shrink the fair’s footprint and maximize public investment throughout the property, though exactly how much space city officials want to set aside for the fair has not been disclosed, and currently, the fair uses almost all the land.

In the meantime, the fair is already looking toward its 2020 iteration.
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