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Alaskans savor state fair flavors: four big events in August celebrate community spirit.


State fair food--from powdered-sugar elephant ears to savory gyros--indulges the palate. Renewing friendships and etching family memories satisfies the heart.

August marks state fair season, with the larger events set for this month.

Alaska has nine state fairs held every summer in Copper Center, Delta Junction, Fairbanks, Haines, Kodiak, Nenana Valley, Ninilchik, Palmer and Salcha.

"All the fair (organizers) get together once a year and help each other out," said Randi Carnahan, general manager of the Tanana Valley State Fair Association.

For example, organizers ensure fair dates don't overlap since each event relies on shared services like the carnival, she said. Regional fairs will conduct Alaska's Got Talent competitions and send winners to the finals at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer to compete for the $5,000 first prize.




The state fair in Haines combines food, contests and critters in the dramatic setting of mountains and coastline.

"The Southeast Alaska State Fair offers a summer cultural convergence that draws thousands from Alaska and the Yukon each year," said Kelly Hostetler, fair executive director and events coordinator.

About 11,000 people attended the fair last year. Attendees come from the Haines area, Skagway, Juneau and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada.

But Southeast Alaska fair-goers trek to the venue via different routes than their other Alaska counterparts.

"Much of our audience is rural, with visitors traveling to Haines via the Alaska Marine Highway, the Haines Highway or the two Bush air carriers," Hostetler said.

The Southeast fair has been a social draw and seasonal highlight for more than 40 years, Hostetler said.

The 2010 fair in Haines will feature a half-marathon trail race, new food vendors, mechanical bull rides and musical entertainment. The smaller-scale of the Haines fair cultivates its regional flavor.

"Without the midways and commotion of big festivals, there's room in Haines for fair-goers to breathe and try to take it all in: music, arts and crafts, logging contests, food booths, children's stage and carnival, puppet shows, low-stress rides, animals and sporting events," Hostetler said.




The Tanana Valley State Fair in Fairbanks is the state's oldest fair, marking its 79th anniversary this year, and the northernmost state fair in the nation.

"It's a pretty traditional, down-home kind of fair," Carnahan said.

Organizers are spotlighting Interior-based entertainers and artists for the fair, rather than drawing national performers. Old-time contests also are on tap this year, including bubble-gum blowing contests.

"They were a huge hit last year," Carnahan said.

Fair planners watch U.S. trends closely and try to include popular events like food and cooking shows, but Carnahan also aims to schedule longtime favorites.

"What we're trying to do is breathe excitement into old traditional events like a bake-off" where a stove was the grand prize, she said, recalling a past contest.

More than 100,000 people attended the 2009 Tanana Valley fair. Fairbanks residents treasure the fair, planning their two-week vacations around fair dates or just popping in during lunch hour, Carnahan said.




Organizers at the Kenai Peninsula State Fair in Ninilchik are bringing back the popular Backwoods Girl competition this year. Alaska women will demonstrate skills in fire-building, wood-cutting, water-hauling, egg-frying and changing the baby's diaper. The winner's prize this year is a chainsaw, said Katie Schollenberg, fair office assistant.

Organizers are planning new children's events for the mini stage, including story time, acting workshops and building classes. A few more experiment stations will be added to the Sight, Sound and Motion exhibit, a hands-on children's science center.

The new Matti's Farm will feature interactive agricultural exhibits and demonstrations--imagine milking cows, collecting eggs and harvesting vegetables. The farm is dedicated to Matti Martin, a boy who was killed in an accident last year.

Last year about 8,100 people attended the Kenai Peninsula fair.

The fair features a parade, rodeo, 5-kilometer beach run, arm-wrestling competition, hula-hoop contest and musical entertainment. The pig races are another fair highlight.

"Of course we will be running a new crop of racing pigs, and they are already looking like the best we've seen in several years," Schollenberg said.

"The small, home-grown feel of our fair makes us unique," she said. "We don't do things on the grand scale that some of the larger fairs do, but instead focus on our agricultural roots, great local entertainment and good, clean, family fun."




This year fair-goers can plan their fair-food strategy with an online food guide. The 2010 Palmer fair will offer more than 70 food vendors, including three new entries, according to Dean Phipps, marketing director. The Snak Shack will sell pocket bread with Thai or Mediterranean filings. Ed's Eats showcases barbecue-glazed chicken wings and salmon chowder. Why Not and What Not will offer various pronto pups. Original Gourmet Ice Cream Bars plans to sell a new item: chocolate-covered bacon.

Organizers attracted several national entertainers this year, including Kenny Rogers, Howie Mandel, Boys II Men, Ricky Skaggs and 38 Special.
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Title Annotation:Alaska This Month
Comment:Alaskans savor state fair flavors: four big events in August celebrate community spirit.(Alaska This Month)
Author:Pounds, Nancy
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Article Type:Calendar
Geographic Code:1U9AK
Date:Aug 1, 2010
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