Colton Worrell knows every inch of Frontier Park in Graham. For several days each summer, it becomes his home away from home.
The 13-year-old from Orting is among the scores of kids and parents who camp out at the park during the Pierce County Fair, which kicked off Thursday and runs through Sunday.
Like Colton, most campers are involved in 4-H. The kids must be on hand during fair hours to show their animals, so for many families it makes sense to pitch tents or pull up recreation vehicles instead of commuting home late at night.
Plus, it’s fun.
Colton said he likes being with friends and exploring the fair on breaks. He makes sure to swing by his favorite booth – where “the lady (in charge) knows me” – for Indian fry bread, he said.
There isn’t much dilly-dallying, though, because “every day I show my horse,” he explained. That would be Breezie, a paint who stood quietly in a stall while Colton talked.
Colton is part of the Fire Riders 4-H club in east Pierce County. His older brothers also participated in 4-H, so Colton has been a fair fixture “every year of my life,” he said.
Others are newer to the long-weekend camping experience.
David Gavronski, 18, of Tacoma, and his mom, Sara Howatson, are camping for their second year. They’ve already picked up some tricks. For instance, their campsite doesn’t have power so they take their cell phones with them for a quick charge when they hit the showers.
They’ve also witnessed how small a world the fairgrounds can be. Before the fair started this year, a dog got loose on the grounds. It was quickly reunited with its owner.
“You know if you see a goat, call the goat people. If you see a dog, call the dog people,” Howatson said with a laugh.
Fair leaders say about 100 campsites are filled this year.
Along with the 4-Hers, some vendors and entertainers also stay on the grounds. Even the fair’s manager, Betty Backstrom, can’t resist. She uses a motor home loaned by her brother.
For the 4-H youth, especially, camping “is the social thing to do,” Backstrom said. “The kids get together, the parents get together – everybody has a good time.”
For many, the four-day event is a lead-up to the state 4-H fair, held during the 17-day Puyallup Fair in September.
The Puyallup Fair is among the largest in the world, drawing more than 1 million people. It has bustling RV areas where vendors, exhibitors, 4-H families and others camp out for all or part of the run.
The smaller Pierce County Fair draws about 22,000 people over its shorter run.
There are special behind-the-scenes traditions for campers, including a large pancake breakfast on the opening morning and a Saturday night karaoke party for the kids.
Campers also often have potlucks and cookouts in the evenings.
“We eat together and talk. We always roast marshmallows one night,” said Brandon Munford, 15, of Tacoma.
Like many campers, Brandon and his crew of family and fellow Hoofbeats & Paws 4-H club members arrived well ahead of the fair’s official start. Their RV was in place Wednesday afternoon, parked in a wooded area where other families with youths showing dogs were staying. (The trees muffle barking at night, one camper said).
Dozens of other RVs – large and small – were spread around the campgrounds, along with tents and even a hammock.
Campers set out cook stoves and sleeping bags.
Excitement started to build.
In the horse area, Colton helped his mom, Lola Worrell, unhitch their trailer. Worrell said she loves watching her son and his fellow 4-Hers ride at the fair.
Being part of it “is the highlight of Colton’s whole year,” she said.
Colton didn’t disagree.
It’s not exactly a vacation because there’s so much work to do, he said. But at the same time, “it feels like you’re on vacation. It’s so much fun.”
Bethany Medeiros, 17, left, and Kaylee Logan, 12, set up their cots as members of the Kolts & Kitties 4-H Club of Roy prepare their tent at Frontier County Park in Graham on Wednesday. The two will show horses, pigs, and cats at the Pierce County Fair, which began Thursday.
The Pierce County Fair runs through Sunday at Frontier Park in Graham.
Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. today and Saturday, and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.
Admission: $5. Kids five and younger are admitted free.
Theme: Psychedelic Summer.
Highlights: Along with the familiar games, rides, food and displays, the fair features the Wenatchee Youth Circus and other entertainment.
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