There are two distinct stories for the continuing success of Labor Day weekend in Lakeview. On one hand it takes continued determination by local ranchers, farmers, business owners and managers as well as local professional folks to continue year after year with volunteer hours, sweat, sacrifice, corporate funds and sometimes personal funds. On the other hand, it requires the participation of 4-H and FFA kids, their parents, open class exhibitors plus daring, exuberant cowboys and cowgirls, flashy horses, bucking broncs and irritated to the point of being downright mad bulls to make Lakeview’s annual Lake County Fair and Round-Up a continuing success. Lake County has all of that and then some.
Lake County Round-Up just celebrated 102 years of continuous running and Lake County Fair celebrated eighty-one years of continuous running. Those are very impressive statistics for a small, isolated community. For 81 years they have run side-by-side—it hasn’t been easy—for a number of reasons. But the fact remains, this community has managed to accomplish a combined celebration for one last weekend of summer. Last year, 2020, was nearly the undoing of tradition, but the stubborn, bull-headed determination of Lake County citizens prevailed as we carried on.
Although they run in tandem, Lake County Round-Up Association and Lake County Fair Board are separate organizations. Both institutions have unique and interesting histories. Because of its nature, the Round-Up has a more colorful background, but both have persevered due entirely to the hard work of volunteer hands.
History of local fairs in Lake County appears as far back as 1913. Amazingly large and successful fairs were held in Paisley. They were sponsored by and financially supported by the folks of Paisley and Summer Lake. Oregon State legislation provided meager amounts of funding for county fairs early on as Lake County attempted to organize a county fair board, but they were successful for only two or three years at a time. At one time there was an agreement to hold a fair one year in Paisley and the succeeding year in Lakeview. That worked for a very short amount of time.
In May of 1940 the voters of Lake County passed a tax base that enabled the county to purchase Lakeview’s Round-Up grounds, grandstand and existing buildings and to establish a Lake County Fair Board.
It was a shaky start for the co-existence of those two organizations: Lake County Round-Up Association and Lake County Fair Board. As is often the case, good ideas don’t happen fast or easy and that being so, it took almost two years for the legal wrinkles of that bond issue to iron themselves out.
World War II complicated matters. Could rodeos and fairs be held during war time? It turned out that with a lot of persistence, Lake County Round-Up and Lake County Fair could be held and with some changing of long-held traditions by the Round-Up, the show went on. Possibly the most significant change was that the rodeo could be held with local amateur contestants only.
As the war years rolled on, the boundary for those amateur cowboys and cowgirls was expanded to include Modoc and Harney Counties and by 1946 the boundary was extended to include Klamath and Deschutes Counties. In 1951 the rodeo was opened to all amateur contestants, no matter their residence and by 1960 it was no longer limited to amateurs, however, the 1970 Round-Up was advertised as the “World’s Largest Amateur Rodeo” in the “Wide Open Spaces.”
But as years passed into history, the amateur attraction began to wane as professional rodeos began to gain status in other small communities with lesser-known competitions. Crowds were smaller as the excitement of the old days lost some of its steam.
In 2014 Lake County Round-Up Association made a bold decision to become affiliated with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). It was a huge step in the right direction, but it took the local community and loyal fans of Lake County Round-Up a couple of years to fully accept the change and catch hold of the needed enthusiasm to strongly support a professional rodeo with professional athletes. But catch hold it did!
Lake County Round-Up fans are able to embrace a large venue of rodeo events. Aside from two days of PRCA rodeo there is a ranch rodeo and Neil Flynn Memorial Roping in its own arena. Round-Up and fair goers of legal age can pay a visit to the Skip Thornton Memorial Re-Ride Room for adult thirst quenchers and entertainment. Saturday evening brings a headliner concert to the arena and don’t forget the famous Sunday evening Destruction Derby.
Lake County Fair holds its own schedule of events side-by-side with rodeo attractions. Possibly the biggest attraction is the 4-H and FFA market and showmanship judging and later a market sale of those animals, padding future college funds of Lake County boys and girls. There are two fair exhibit buildings filled with open-class and other 4-H and FFA exhibits. A food court holds reign between fair buildings and the rodeo grandstand. Vendor booths spill into the grassy area south of the exhibit buildings as fair-goers travel enroute to a carnival filled with action packed thrill rides and more cautious, but with equal thrills for younger boys and girls. There will be cotton-candy and some whirly-twirly noisy gizmo with a lifespan of about one-and-a-half days.
If Lake County appeared to be puffed-up with pride over Labor Day Weekend, its residents are entitled. It is not easy to carry on our tradition. During 2018’s celebration I poked my nose into as many corners as possible while I researched a book that celebrated Lake County Round-U.p’s 100 years, celebrated in 2019. I came to the conclusion that it probably takes as many as 1,000 people to put together and run Lake County Fair and Round-Up. Only a handful of those folks are paid help, the rest are volunteers.