Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Southeast Alaska State Fair

52nd fair starts Thursday


July 22, 2021

Ceri Godinez

Southeast Alaska Independent Living and Takshanuk Watershed Council Summer Work Program interns Kaylee Ray and Brooklyn Dewitt prepare fairgrounds for the Southeast Alaska State Fair during the program's penultimate day.

The town's biggest celebration in two years will culminate with an all-comers whipped-cream pie battle at Raven Arena.

Featuring the theme "Live Free, Pie Hard," the 52nd Southeast Alaska State Fair begins with a flag-raising 12:30 p.m. Thursday, July 29 at Payson's Pavilion.

"Baked goods for sale and in the exhibit hall are a big part of fairs all over the country. It seems like a good theme to have for your life. We could all use a little more pastry, don't you think?" said Maddy Witek, assistant fair director.

The final event of the four-day celebration, the big pie fight starts 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 1 at Raven Arena with pies made of whipped cream and Dream Whip, Witek said. "We'll have a pie fight in the arena and we'll have hoses there to hose people off and send them home."

The fair also has compiled a "best-of" cookbook featuring nearly 60 pie recipes gleaned from historic state fair cookbooks, including recipes from around Southeast and Yukon Territory and local classics like Glen Campbell's Impossible Coconut Pie, Connie Staska's crab quiche and Bonnie Potter's Taffy Spoof Pie.

The cookbook is on sale at the fair information booth just inside the main gate, where fair schedules and more information about shows, events and competitions are available.

After a one-year hiatus for COVID-19, this year's fair features 19 food vendors, rides, contests, commercial booths, live entertainment on two stages, a logging show, wearable art review, talent show and commercial fisherman's rodeo.

Early reports suggest high interest from Skagway and Juneau. "My understanding is there are no rooms available in town already," Witek said July 16. "We have vendors who can't find a place to stay, so I think it's going to be big."

But as the pandemic remains a health threat, this year's event will include some twists, including a shorter night schedule and mostly regional entertainment.

Cancellation of last year's event eroded fair revenues, including the budget for Main Stage performers, so shows there will end at 9 p.m. nightly. Also, pandemic concerns will cancel the annual volleyball tournament, as well as the children's Bounce House and Jousting events.

Doors will be left open at Harriett Hall and seating has been removed to encourage fairgoers to see exhibits and keep moving. In addition, the Klondike Saloon and adjoining stage will be closed, though alcohol will be served at outdoor beer and wine gardens.

Some of the modifications are to address pandemic concerns about proximity between fairgoers, but other events are scratched due to apprehension about contagion by volunteers or organizers, Witek said. The fair also must comply with a COVID-19 event mitigation plan approved by the State of Alaska.

At the Klondike bar and stage, "there's not enough space in there to maintain COVID-safe distances," she said. The Bounce House, an enclosed pneumatic trampoline where children sometimes land on each other, posed too big a threat, Witek said. "It's COVID popcorn in there."

But for children, teens and adults who like to bounce, the fair has purchased six giant ball-shaped horses. "They're like those jumpy balls, but with more dignity," Witek said, and they'll be contained in a makeshift coral. "You bounce around."

An inspector last week certified the fair's rides including the carousel, Ferris wheel and kiddie train. Fair workers recently replaced a main bearing in the wooden merry-go-round and repainted the ride.

The fair's temperamental Ferris wheel will run intermittently to ensure proper operation. "It's not something that any volunteer can be trained to operate," Witek said. "It's about balance and following protocol and responsibility of riders and operators."

Attractions new to the fair include Alaska Mystics featuring fortune-telling, and food booths featuring "mom burgers," Pop Smoke Barbecue and sushi and poke. Some vendors chose to sit out the fair due to COVID-19 concerns.

Those businesses won't lose their seniority for spots at future fairs, Witek said. "We understand that this year we're operating under special circumstances."

Tom Ganner

2019 SEAK State Fair -- A Sitka Cirque performer suspends in mid-air from the Main Stage Friday.

Witek said she's looking to recruit a new generation of fair volunteers. Workers putting in a full shift get a T-shirt and free admission. Help is needed taking tickets, operating rides and manning the beer garden, she said.

Resident Cynthia Allen, who drove the kiddie train for nearly 30 years, recently retired her conductor's cap. "Now I get to be a passenger," she said this week. Allen said she'll be at the fair, dancing to Diggin Dirt, a California soul and reggae band slated for Friday night. "That's my kind of music."

Off-site fair events include a Saturday morning fun run around town and the annual state fair parade, starting 11 a.m. on Main Street at Sixth Avenue.

Fair gates open at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and noon on other days. A four-day fair pass costs $50 for adults and $30 for senior citizens and teens ages 13-17. For more information, call the fair at 766-2476 or go to


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