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Service groups band together for Project Gold Country Fairgrounds

Fairgrounds lost state funding
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Ronald Reagan called Auburn’s fair “the little fair that wouldn’t die” in 1970. Today in the face of losing over $200,000 of its operating budget, some local service groups are once again taking that sentiment to heart. Last year the Gold Country Fair and Fairgrounds lost its state funding, which was equal to about 25 percent of the fair’s $800,000 to $850,000 annual budget, according to Laurie Johnson, chief executive officer of the Gold Country Fair. In addition to losing state funding, the fair lost the benefits associated with being a state agency. That translates to the fair having much higher costs for its annual audit, vehicle registrations and other state-associated fees than before. Now it operates solely on the revenue it generates from renting out facilities. When Ray Arnold heard the fairgrounds had to reduce its workforce, including some of its maintenance staff, he decided it was time to rally the community together. “Being born and raised in Auburn, the fairgrounds have always been part of us,” Arnold said. “If the fairgrounds can’t make a go at it because of losing state funding, just look at what this town and the surrounding area will lose.” Arnold said events held at the fairgrounds, including Fast Fridays, the Gold Country Fair, 4th of July festivities, The Auburn Home Shows, the Auburn Rodeo and many more, are gathering points for the community. The service group he belongs to, the Auburn 49ers Lions Club, along with several others are planning to band together for Project Gold Country Fairgrounds on June 6. They’ll paint, perform maintenance and make any needed repairs, with the goal of helping to preserve the grounds long into the future. Arnold said he still remembers when the state legislature voted to close the Auburn District Fair, later renamed the Gold Country Fair, in the 1960s. He said Wendell Robie and several other locals started a campaign to keep it open. Ronald Reagan, who was governor at the time, said the fair could remain open and visited the grounds in 1970. Ashley Countryman, of Newcastle, grew up going to 4-H and Future Farmers of America events at the fairgrounds and is now president of the Junior Livestock Auction. She said the facility enables younger 4-H and FFA members to sell the animals they raise locally. “I have been involved with the Gold Country Fairgrounds since I was 9 years old,” Countryman said. “Anything to keep it going and make sure it doesn’t get closed down like some of the other fairs around here.” Johnson said despite having to cut many expenses, the community has come through by helping with cleaning and some special projects. “I was raised right around the corner. This was my playground. I have a fondness for these fairgrounds,” Johnson said. “We knew we could count on the community.” In addition to making budget cuts and relying more on community support, Johnson said the fairgrounds will focus on highlighting its wedding and special events facilities to make up for the budget cuts. She said the state may soon develop other ways to get some of the funding back to the fairs. She said she hopes the fairgrounds can continue to be place where the community comes to relax and have a good time. “It’s a community pride project,” Johnson said. “Everyone can come back and enjoy it.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter at AJ_News. _______________________________________________________ For more information on Project Gold Country Fairgrounds or to volunteer, call Ray Arnold at (530) 878-3888, or (530) 906-2296.