A thrilling opening day for the Clark County Fair

Early risers got to enjoy free breakfast, rides, and prizes at the fair

RIDGEFIELD — The three friends looked like they were hanging on for dear life. 

No worries. They were in no danger.

It just appeared that way, “flying” in circles on the Cliff Hanger at the 2019 Clark County Fair.

A thrilling opening day for the Clark County Fair
Molly Walther, Carolyn Howard, and Maggie Hart were the first to ride Cliff Hanger on Friday morning at the opening of the Clark County Fair. Photo by Mike Schultz

Molly Walther, Carolyn Howard, and Maggie Hart, all of them 12 years old and students at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Vancouver, were the very first to ride the Cliff Hanger as the 151st edition of the fair opened Friday morning.

A light rain did not appear to keep fairgoers away, as they showed up early for a free breakfast. Pancakes were served beginning at 8 a.m. and the line continued to stretch throughout the fairgrounds two-and-a-half hours later. 

A thrilling opening day for the Clark County Fair
Rain, and the puddles it created, did not keep too many people away from the annual free breakfast at the Clark County Fair. Photo by Mike Schultz

The carnival rides and games of skill opened at 9 a.m.

Walther, Howard, and Hart were there, ready for action.

“She has a hair appointment,” Maggie Hart said, pointing to her mother, Kathy, as one of the reasons they were there so early.

“We have free tickets, and you have to come at a certain time,” Howard added.

A thrilling opening day for the Clark County Fair
The line for the free breakfast stretched far throughout the fairgrounds. Photo by Mike Schultz

The Harts moved to Vancouver three years ago. The fair is now a tradition. 

Howard, too, said she has been coming to the fair “since she was little.”

This is at least the sixth time Walther has attended.

“Rides,” Walther said when asked why she comes every year.

A thrilling opening day for the Clark County Fair
Shawn Crousore was one of many who helped out at the Fred Meyer Pancake Feed on the first day of the Clark County Fair. Photo by Mike Schultz

“Food,” Howard said.

“I like to be able to run around and go to rides,” Hart said, adding that food is a priority, too. 

“Basically, the whole thing,” Hart said — music to the ears of fair organizers.

Walther said she likes the roller coaster the best, “The Zillerator.”

The trio said they do not really want to go on the Ring of Fire, because that goes upside down. In fact, Howard said she does not like heights at all. But she did go on the Cliff Hanger.

A thrilling opening day for the Clark County Fair
Jaymee Graves of Whidbey Island gives Destiny’s Child a bath. Photo by Mike Schultz

“She was dying the whole time,” Hart said.

Hart added that she expects to come back to the fair during this 10-day run, to see the other attractions.

“Today is mostly rides,” she said.

While they were enjoying the rides, 8-year-old Caleb Alderman won a new friend. He was one of the first to win a prize at the carnival, aiming a water gun at a target. Technically, he was not the first to win a prize. His uncle, David Piper, won the first race and chose a stuffed S’more for his prize. (Don’t ask.)

A thrilling opening day for the Clark County Fair
Caleb Alderman, 8, shows off his monkey (or is it a gorilla?) that he won at the Clark County Fair on Friday morning. He most likely was the first child under 10 to win a prize, just minutes after the carnival opened. Photo by Mike Schultz

But Caleb was the first under-10-year-old to win, when he refused to quit and beat his uncle on the last try.

The goal, Caleb said, is to “blow up the balloon. If it pops, then you win.”

How did it feel to take down his uncle in this game of skill?

A thrilling opening day for the Clark County Fair
A 3-day old piglet just could not wait any longer and had to go to the Clark County Fair. Photo by Mike Schultz

“Aaaaa-mazing,” he said.

His reward: A monkey. (No, not a real one.) 

Of course, the carnival must have employees to keep the customers safe and happy. This carnival has an international flavor, too.

A thrilling opening day for the Clark County Fair
Jamie-Lee Wilson, a 23-year-old from South Africa, wanted to work and travel in America. She has been working the fair circuit for about three months. Photo by Mike Shultz

Jamie-Lee Wilson came to America after finishing her studies in South Africa. She is working with Butler Amusements, traveling the west coast with the fair, meeting new people. The 23-year-old said an agency in South Africa helped set her up with this job in the states.

“Smile and be polite,” she said of the requirements for her job, on this day at a pop-a-balloon stand.

She arrived in America three months ago, starting in the San Francisco area and has worked her way north.

She said she enjoys interacting with children. 

Wilson said she once had a little girl pop a balloon but did not want the prize. Wilson told her she could have a stuffed animal, take it home with her. Instead, the little girl said she just wanted to play. No prize necessary.

“You’re the cutest,” Wilson told her. 

Every day, every customer, will bring new stories at the Clark County Fair this year.

For more information, including links to daily schedules, see our preview of the fair:


About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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