By: Rachel Ibanez
Driving down 13th Avenue and the surrounding streets in Jefferson Westside Neighbors, there are many old homes full of character, parks with the exemplary Oregon foliage, and shops and restaurants one could only find in Eugene. Also within Jefferson Westside Neighbors is the Lane Events Center, a 55-acre chunk of land that hosts a plethora of events- everything from a gun and knife show to the Picc-A-Dilly Flea Market. One of the most popular events held at the Lane Events Center is the Lane County Fair, a 5-day event that hosts thousands of Oregonians each year.
Unlike many fairgrounds across the country, the Lane County Fairgrounds are located directly in the middle of town, as opposed to on the outskirts. Being completely surrounded by residences and storefronts, the potential to bother citizens with noise, traffic or trash increases with the presence of the large facility. Despite these challenges, many residents and business owners think of the Lane Events Center as a positive addition to the community.
Dale Berg, owner of Berg’s Ski and Snowboard Shop located just a few blocks from the Lane Events Center, says that the events center, especially the fair, brings in a lot of new business from out-of-towners visiting Eugene to attend events. Berg is incredibly active in the Eugene community and he thinks the Lane Events Center only adds to the culture and community in the area.
Each October, Berg and his business attend the ski swap at the center. He says the central location in Eugene helps him meet more people, gain new customers and keep his business running during the three months that they are closed.
This year, the Lane County Fair will be expecting over 105,000 people, according to the Lane Events Center’s Director of Marketing, Rachel Bivens. The fairgrounds will be hosting a plethora of events for visitors of every age, but the fair really offers much more than entertainment. According to Pete Sorenson, Lane County Commissioner, the Lane County Fair offers a place for fairgoers to donate to Food for Lane County, a nonprofit organization that helps feed hungry people across the Oregonian county. Sorenson says, “We’ve raised more money in one single day at the Lane County Fair then has been raised for Food for Lane County in any other single day event, so it’s a big, positive thing for the community.” The fair also has a partnership with the Lane Blood Center, allowing folks to receive free admission to the fair if they donate blood, says KEZI.
In addition to being a place of charitable donations, the fair also helps the community by employing local vendors and entertainers. At the 2012 Lane County Fair, “over 53 percent of the exhibits, vendors and entertainers there hail from western Oregon,” according to KEZI. This allows the fairgoers and the vendors to have a connection, giving the fair a more familial feel.
This sense of community is what attracts the hundreds of thousands of people that attend the fair every year. Not only do people love the opportunities to participate with local foundations, businesses and charities, but they also work together to make the fair a better place, since it is located centrally in Eugene. Sorenson says that when he first started his job almost 18 years ago with the county, he would receive 100 calls a day for a week regarding complaints of the Lane Events Center. Now, he says, he will only receive five phone calls the entirety of the fair. “Most of those phone calls were all about ‘well, this happened, I’m wondering if we can improve on it’, as opposed to hundreds of angry people complaining about noise, so I think that’s been a remarkable change in the relations of the fair. And I think it’s helped to have the fair manager to attend the city of Eugene neighborhood meetings,” Sorenson adds. It is clear to see that the members of the community respond to the event center’s efforts to try to help make the fair and their events as fun as possible for everyone.
Angela Towle, a resident of the neighborhood who lives just across the street from the fairgrounds has really noticed a change in the efforts of the events center and the city of Eugene. “I have lived across from the fairgrounds for 10 years and used to have a serious problem with pedestrian traffic trying to navigate across street traffic through parked cars. For many years now, the city has mandated a no parking zone along 13th Avenue to help facilitate safety of pedestrians and also allow for a special LTD stopping lane. This has been a huge improvement,” Towle says. While she does love being so close to the grounds, the noise does drift in from time to time, but the fairgrounds seem to be very complaint with the city’s noise ordinances. In order to keep neighbors happy, Lane County hands out free passes to the Lane County Fair so that residents can go to the fair and enjoy it, instead of worrying about the potential annoyances of traffic, noise and trash, according to Sorenson.
The fair appeals to all ages and types of people with the various events they have. Lawrence Hastings, a senior at the University of Oregon and a Eugene native has gone to the fair for many years, with his friends and family. However, since being a college student, he has not gone as much. He said that he doesn’t know if college-aged students go to the fair, due to lack of marketing towards the age group and how expensive it can be. “It’s expensive. I mean a reason why I don’t ride the rides- I’d like to ride some rides but they cost a lot. It’s a numbers game, you pay for admission, and you pay your soul ride a ride. So that could cater to college students.” While it may not cost your soul to ride a ride, tickets to the rides run daredevils between $2.50 and $4.50 each, which can add up during a full day at the fair.
Despite the additional expenses to ride the rides, fairgoers do get free admission to the concerts and other entertainment events featured each day and night at the fair. TheLane Events Center, and especially the Lane County Fair give families and friends a place to enjoy the hot summer days with their community. Sorenson says, “It gives us a public place where if we wanted to go, we can now have an experience that we otherwise would not have”, proving that the fair and events center are a truly positive addition to Eugene.
For more information about the Lane County Fair visit atthefair.com