It seems everyone who grew up in Carey or Picabo views the Blaine County Fair with special fondness, reminiscing about showing horses or participating in mutton-busting competitions as a youngster.
This year, fair organizers say they will meld these existing traditions with new ones in an attempt to reach out to the entire county.
"The people in Blaine County seem to think it's the Carey fair. It's not," said Kyle Green, fair board president. "The fair is something everyone can be involved in."
Green was born in Carey and has lived there ever since. He said he can remember when the fair was the center point of the summer, the one event everyone looked forward to.
"Years ago, the only thing going on in the summer was the fair," he said. "Now, you're competing against everything."
Events such as the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, the ice shows and other festivals and events throughout the season compete for attention, especially in the north valley.
"There are so many other things to do," said 4-H volunteer Verla Goitiandia. "Even Carey people don't come out like they used to."
Despite the allure of three types of rodeos (children, standard and ATV), fair food and the possibility of buying enough pork to last all year, fair volunteer Amy Federko said it might take more to draw families into Carey for the weekend.
"We want more people to come from the north county," she said.
With that in mind, the fair board has introduced a Family Fun Day on Friday. A bouncy house and a bike rodeo as well as a petting zoo and rides designed to be kid-friendly should help the fair compete with other valley events, Green said.
"Our goal is to add different events and spark some interest," he said.
For many Carey residents, however, the fair's interest lies in more traditional events. Carey resident and County Clerk JoLynn Drage said her favorite part of the fair is the market animal sale. Drage sits in the ring and manages the books while the kids parade their animals in front of potential buyers.
"I love watching the kids in the ring," she said. "They're still showing them while they are selling them. It's so cool to see them."
Don Atkinson, patriarch of Atkinsons' Markets and a former Picabo resident, said he still remembers Big Boy, a grand champion steer he raised at the age of 16. Big Boy was such a prize specimen, Atkinson said, that he competed in the Twin Falls and Odgen fairs as well.
Atkinson still makes it to the fair when he's in town, and always makes sure to send someone to the market animal sale to support the 4-H kids.
"It was such a great program for me and for [Picabo rancher] Nick Purdy and for all the kids who grew up down there," he said.
Buying animals every year at the sale is one way, he said, that he can give back to the community while rewarding kids for their hard work.
"Farmers and ranchers don't make a lot of money, and those kids want to go to school," he said. "Someone has to buy [the animals], and it takes people like us to go down there and do that."
Drage said that the fair has changed over the years, with less of an emphasis on sewing and other home economics activities than there used to be.
Kids raised in Carey will still come home every year for the fair, she said. Her own daughter drives from Idaho Falls every year to show her children the fair she participated in.
"The kids who grow up are very attached to it," she said. "The tradition is still very, very strong. The focus of it may have shifted a little, but the county fair tradition is still huge."
Green said he's been going to the Little Kids' Rodeo every year since he was old enough to participate in it.
"It's been around since I was mutton-busting—except it was calf-riding then," he said.
The rodeo traditionally features mutton-busting, an event in which children try to stay on the backs of racing sheep. Other events include steer riding for older children and an event in which children chase calves around the arena and try to grab ribbons tied around their tails.
"It's absolutely fabulous," Drage said. "It's crazy, it's wild, it's hilarious. It's a lot of fun."
In order to keep the fair going and the fun alive, though, Goitiandia said, the fair board and 4-H need to work to dispel the notion that the Blaine County fair is only for the south county.
"It takes a community," she said. "That's one of the problems in Blaine County. Everyone says, 'I'm from the north, I'm from the south.' To me, it's all the same."
"The more interest we can get, the better the fair will be," Green agreed. "If everyone got together and got behind it, we could have a really big fair."
Katherine Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org
Blaine County Fair
The Blaine County Fair will take place Aug. 10-13 at the Carey Fairgrounds in Carey. For a complete schedule of this year's events, visit www.theblainecountyfair.com