Fair Frontier Days kick off today at Walla Walla County Fairgrounds

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In the heat of a plus 90-degree afternoon, preparation for a banner show this week at the fair got under way as a breeze unfurled a line of flags in the direction of a harnessed carnival worker handling the assembly of one of the Davis Shows Northwest rides. While booths, rides and various exhibits began to take shape, the Fairgrounds buzzed with heavy activity while moving towards it official opening today.

WALLA WALLA - It'll be Labor Day weekend directly, so sho' nuff it's fair time.

Organizers of the Walla Walla Fair & Frontier Days expect a big herd of folks this year because of the slumping economy. Fairgoers reportedly are flocking to such events all over the country to take in relatively inexpensive entertainment.

Fair Manager Cory Hewitt said organizers have worked hard to present a lineup commemorating community spirit, harvest, and the beginning of school and the autumn season.

"We really want to showcase Walla Walla and make this an incredible party that people want to come to," Hewitt said.

Efforts also have been made to offer new events such as the Guns & Hoses mechanical bull-riding competition between local law enforcement officers and firefighters on Thursday and Friday afternoons, and the Blue Mountain Wildlife Birds of Prey display Saturday and Sunday.

Hewitt also has announced several new ticket packages including a family gate pass for two adults and two children for $15 and a rodeo package for $45. And once inside, plenty of family entertainment is available at no cost including nearly continuous performances on the Pepsi Stage.

Admission today was "free until 3" as people started streaming into the 143rd local fair to see the traditional exhibits and gawk at the farm animals while biting into burgers and pigging out on corn dogs.

The carnival rides are spinning; five days of lawn entertainment have begun.

This year's theme is "Harvest Moon and Country Tunes," and patrons will be lining up for tonight's Blake Shelton concert that starts at 7. The popular, versatile singer's new single, "Home," is a country music hit. The opening act will be performed by husband-and-wife duo Joey + Rory.

Thursday's featured event is the Demolition Derby, which promises 200 entries on a crash course beginning at 6 p.m. Spectators will be treated to about 35 "heat races" before the finale.

Friday is Kids Day when ages 6-13 are admitted for $2 and can participate in special activities in the Kid's Farm Center during the afternoon. At various times, prizes will be awarded, a money scramble will be featured and free Popsicle treats will be available.

Every day, children can experience farm life in the Expo Building, compete in a pedal tractor pull on the lawn south of the Pepsi Stage and explore hands-on demonstrations and experiments by the Children's Museum of Walla Walla in the Community Building.

Organizers also are inviting kids - from newborns to 9-year-olds - to wear their most fashionable western garb and enter the Little Buckaroo Contest. Judging will be Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 5 p.m. on the Pepsi Stage.

Also for three days starting Friday, you can bet the fastest horses from much of the Northwest will be off and running at the state-licensed pari-mutuel horse races starting at 1 p.m.

Broncos and as many as 400 cowboys and cowgirls will buck for shares of $42,000 in purse money at the Frontier Days Rodeo on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m. Special tributes will be presented each night beginning at 6:45. Friday, fans are encouraged to be "tough enough to wear pink" to show support for cancer victims and survivors. Local cowboy legends will be honored Saturday. And you can don the red, white and blue Sunday in a salute to troops for their service.

Professional bullfighters Rowdy Barry and Ryan Wilson will appear, as will clown/barrelman JJ Harrison. And this year's specialty act is The One-Arm Bandit & Company.

The fair parade with about 125 entries will march downtown Saturday starting at 10 a.m. Led by the parade marshal, Walla Walla Community College President Steve VanAusdle, the event will spotlight the current fair court - Queen Allison Frey, and princesses Katie Hanson and Kati Leetch - and include the usual array of floats, mounted groups, wagons, clowns and cars.

There's a new twist to the parade route this year, however. Because of the closure of Palouse Street for bridge construction, the parade will head down Spokane Street.

Livestock projects will be exhibited in the barn areas at the fairgrounds each day. Also this year, the fair has teamed up with Walla Walla Farmers Co-op to showcase Massey Ferguson farm equipment over the years. Walla Walla '59ers memorabilia will be on display in the pavilion, and fair-themed clothing and mementos will be available for purchase at the northeast corner of the Community Building.

Fairgoers can catch a bus ride on Valley Transit from the downtown transfer station through Saturday. At the fairgrounds, electric-powered shuttle carts courtesy of Wheatland Village will transport patrons from one major exhibit area to another.

Late-night attendees also should be aware of a new policy this year. Hewitt said gate entrance tickets won't be on sale after 10 p.m., so people who want to enter after that should get their tickets early.

Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.

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