Homegrown Fair Returns To Northern Gila County



County fairs are a hallmark of old-fashioned fun. They are also a cornerstone in the creation of a community.

At fairs we get to share our best -- the best of our cooking, our photography, our skills as gardeners or caretakers of animals -- and learn a little more about our neighbors. County fairs also provide an opportunity to take the time to build family bonds in a fun-filled atmosphere.


All kinds of animals can be found competing in the Northern Gila County Fair, from tiny gerbils and guinea pigs to horses, cattle and llamas.

After a two-year absence, the Northern Gila County Fair is returning to Rim Country. The 51st annual fair is set for Friday, Sept. 9 through Sunday, Sept. 11 at the Payson Multi-event Center and the Tonto Apache Tribe's gymnasium.

While the location is new, the flavor of the fair will remain the same -- homegrown, homemade and "old-fashioned."

Wendell Stevens has assumed the role of chairman, taking the reins from Walt and Wilene Smith.

The Smiths, who guided the fair for many years, have assisted in bringing it back to life. They believe the fair should preserve the history and backgrounds of our small, mountain communities, and the successors share that belief.

"It is our hope that we can continue to honor the rich history of our communities, and the individuals and families who created this history," said Stevens in his welcoming remarks in the fair book.

Young and old can compete for ribbons and cash prizes.

Think your tractor's sexy? You can put it on display.

Does the aroma from the apple pie your grandfather taught you to bake waft through your home and bring your children running? There's a place for your entry in domestic sciences.

Are the petals of your roses soft and lovely? Let your Rim Country neighbors admire their beauty.

Is the hog you raised rotund and weighty? You can enter and even sell it at the fair.

In addition to ribbons, entrants take home cash prizes of $3 for first place, $2 for second and $1 for third.

Special events

Special event coordinator Susie Belcher hopes to attract people who might not normally attend the fair by having a wide range of special events, displays, and food and beverage vendors.

"There will be a petting zoo," Belcher said.

Attendees have their choice of entertainment acts to participate in or just watch.

The Sandoval family will play bluegrass music.

Payson high school drama students will put on a short play.

A karate demonstration is planned.

Dancers from the Zane Grey Twirlers will square off.

Faces will be smeared with filling as contestants vie to eat their way to a pie-eating blue ribbon.

A ceremony commemorating 9/11 is set for Sunday.

Payson had a community talent show a few years back, and Belcher and her assistant, Shannon Bielke, have brought it to the fair for the first time.

Domestic sciences (baking)

"I used to go to fairs as a kid and we just moved here from Minnesota last year and I wanted to get active in the community," said Gary Bedsworth who heads up the domestic science division. His background is in the restaurant business.

Baked delights such as yeast breads, candy and cookies will be judged on appearance, texture, aroma and consistency.

"Judges will be taste-testing the cakes, pies and pastries," Bedsworth said. Leftover goodies will be on display.


Eileen Lawson has chaired floriculture for more years than she remembers. It is a fair division with many entries.

She said that sometimes weather will damage cut flowers making it the only category that gets a couple of entries.

"We get pots with plants that I can barely lift," she said. "We've had huge trees come in and big potted bowls of cacti."

The big new entry in the floriculture contest is artistically designed wheel barrow arrangements.

One or more of the following may be used to create this display: potted plants, fresh garden flowers, dried foliage, fruit, dried flowers, vegetables, flowering foliage or fruited branches and accessories.

"If you had a plant on the porch that isn't necessarily a good specimen to enter by itself maybe you would want to use it along with a pumpkin, or a bale of hay," Lawson said.

Judges will look for different kinds of plants in a neat artistic arrangement. One could even stuff a scarecrow and add it to the wheel barrow if they wanted.

"This year we are going to include the different kinds of ornamental grasses that have become so popular that people like to plant," Lawson said. Ornamental grasses can be entered as just the plume, plumbed or unplumbed.

Single-leafed cosmos flowers are also a new category this year along with best miniature rose and most unusually colored rose.


The fair would not be complete without animals.

Charlotte, the famous spelling spider will not be there, but a flight of pigeons and a gaggle of geese will.

There are small-animal categories for soft bunnies with long floppy ears, proudly feathered bantam cocks, ducklings, doves and guinea pigs.

Entrants in Friday night's fun can horse around, literally. The exact games at the event center have yet to be determined, but they may include barrel racing, pole bending, keyhole and flag racing. This no-fee event is separate from the actual horse show.

A 4-H and Future Farmers of America livestock auction will take place Saturday morning.

Steers must weigh at least 850 pounds, but no more than 1,200 pounds.

Swine must weigh at least 180 pounds, but no more than 250 pounds.

Animals become the property of the buyer at the time of purchase. Stevens said that two or more people could go together to purchase an animal.

"One of the most rewarding experiences of putting a fair on is the team effort it takes to be successful," Stevens said.

He and the numerous volunteers invite the community to bring the whole family out to enjoy the Northern Gila County Fair.

The volunteers helping Stevens and the Smiths revive the fair are steering committee members Charlene Hunt, Tammy Umbenhauer, Tessie Flores, Vivian Burdett, Gary Bedsworth, Bobbie Miller and Cathy Stevens. The fair books are at the Payson Parks and Recreation Department office in Green Valley Park, the Payson Public Library and the Isabelle Hunt Memorial Library in Pine. Entry numbers and tags are also available at these sites.

Entry dates are Sept. 7 for the horse show, Sept. 8 for general exhibits and Sept. 9 for small animals.

There is no fee to enter fair exhibits, so start making plans to share your best with your Rim Country neighbors and our visitors.

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