FAIRBANKS — The scene was calm but intent Tuesday as volunteers, vendors, staff and potential exhibitors prepared for the Friday opening of the Tanana Valley State Fair.
Tanana Valley Fair Association General Manager Randi Carnahan, wearing a pink vest and a slightly weary smile, paused briefly at the fairground’s summer office to discuss what’s new and different at the fair this year. The biggest change is one that’s been coming for years, Carnahan said.
“We went smoke free. I listen to the community — I listen to what they say, I listen to their opinions on the fair and it’s something that has come up several times over the years,” Carnahan said. “You would think, on 100 acres, that people smoking out of doors would be not be an issue, but when you have (8,000) to 10,000 people out here, it’s a huge issue. There are people who have breathing issues that can’t be around smoke, that would have issues with it on heavy days.”
Smoking also carries other hazards, Carnahan said.
“Kids get burned, from somebody going through the crowds with a cigarette in their hand,” she said. “There’s nothing worse than seeing a kid at the fair who is crying on their way to the EMT trailer because they got burned by a cigarette. It not only ruins their day at the fair, it ruins Mom and Dad’s day at the fair.”
Fairgoers will not be banished to the parking lot to do their smoking but can instead go to one of three designated smoking areas evenly spaced throughout the fairgrounds.
“I think it’s just going to be better for everyone. It’s a big deal — whenever we do something new for the first year there’s always that transition period. I’ve been out in the community talking to people about it and the response had been overwhelmingly positive. It was just time — it’s hard to take those necessary steps sometimes to do the right thing, but I’m excited about it,” Carnahan said.
The fair also is working to comply with federal rules for access for disabled people after receiving the results of study done by Access Alaska, Carnahan said.
“They compiled this rather large report of their findings. When you talk about disabled and accessibility on the fairgrounds, people automatically think people who are wheelchair-bound, but it’s not just people who are wheelchair bound — it’s hearing impaired, it’s vision impaired, it might be somebody walking with a cane, it might just be somebody who can’t walk very far, for whatever reason,” Carnahan said.
All vendors have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act this year, Carnahan said,
“It depends on their booth. It’s not as big a deal as you would think — sometimes it’s simply a matter of putting a shelf on the outside of the booth 36 inches off the ground,” Carnahan said.
Other accessibility issues will be tackled in the next few years.
“We broke down the report into six areas of importance, starting with the most important thing, which was the paving, the surfacing,” Carnahan said, pointing to a nearby rough patch of asphalt outlined with orange spraypaint. “That uneven surfacing, from the handicapped spots all the way into the gates, is a big issue for some people.”
The fair association also plans to improve handicapped space in the restrooms, build ramps for all fairground stages and find a way to make the association’s winter office — which is located in a basement — accessible. A $750,000 state grant will help defray the costs of the improvements, which will begin after the fair closes this year and continue for several years as funding allows, Carnahan said.
“The vendor issues we knew we certainly could work on, but we also knew that there were issues out here on the grounds that we were going to need some help with. The thing that was so important about getting this grant was that we had not asked for or received any state money since the early ’80s, and we certainly didn’t feel entitled to it either — we felt like we had to do some things for ourselves. We feel it’s a great start, but we know we have a lot more to do,” Carnahan said.
Contact Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7590.