Calaveras rallies behind fair, frog jump

Union Democrat staff

Credit resilience, commitment, cooperation and community spirit with making this year's Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee a success.

To say the Frog Jump was dealt a few bad cards over the past year is an understatement: At the 2008 fair, a midway ride collapsed in mid-flight, injuring 23 and closing the carnival for the duration of the weekend. The taste of that incident still lingered when poor 2008 revenues and a plunging economy last fall forced the fair board to lay off its two-man maintenance staff and an office worker.

If there were ever good reasons to scale back and downsize the Frog Jump, they were this year's. Eliminate all or part of the carnival, delay improvements, put new ideas on hold. All would be understandable as the fair limped toward its 2009 edition.

But neither the fair board nor the people of Calaveras County were about to let that happen.

The community and the fair administration stepped up to the plate to make sure this recession-era fair and Frog Jump are among the most memorable in its long history. The 2009 Jubilee kicked off today and looks like it will live up to its early promise.

So how did this happen? What spurred the fair's jump from the deep swamp to a lily pad in the sun?

First, the fair and its ride contractor, Midway of Fun, have taken extra steps to assure the public that rides are safe. An independent ride inspector checked all attractions as they were being set up and will do so daily through the weekend.

Permits will be "checked and double checked," said Fair CEO Ray Malerbi, who also made his own walk-through inspection before the fair began today.

"We worked very, very hard with Midway to ensure that this type of incident never happens again," said Malerbi, adding that the Yo-Yo, the ride that collapsed last year, will never return to Frogtown.

But what will be at the fairgrounds this weekend is bigger news:

• An entirely renovated main stage, funded with donations and volunteer labor, will showcase the Miss Calaveras Pageant and the Frog Jump competition.

• Fund-raising drawings, including one for $10,000 on Sunday, are being sponsored by the nonprofit Friends of the Fair. Friends are also providing scholarship funding for the Miss Calaveras and Saddle Queen contests.

• Numerous grounds improvements were made by the fair Maintenance Committee, chaired by retired contractor Keith Tallia. Volunteers put in hundreds of hours in labor and are credited with taking up slack created by the earlier maintenance layoffs.

• Timber Town, where an operating sawmill, antique engines, woodworking demonstration and a professional logging show are drawing crowds, highlights the 2009 fair's timber theme. The Theme Committee also coordinated the floriculture exhibit and art show.

• A full slate of events, including tonight's Saddle Queen competition, Friday's "Wranglin' and Ropin' Hometown Rodeo," Saturday bull riding and a Sunday destruction derby, are set for the arena, which has been improved with in-kind donations and volunteer labor by the Arena Committee.

Doesn't sound like a recession-era fair, does it?

For that, again, we can thank a hands-on fair board and administration and an involved community.

The Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee, perhaps more than most small town celebrations, reflects its community.

And this year, as thousands of happy fairgoers can already attest, that reflection is looking pretty good.

The Union Democrat
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