Though a Ferris wheel towers over the Ninilchik Fairground and the smell of kettle corn permeates the air, for many, the Kenai Peninsula Fair is all about the animals.
Past the booths on the winding paths and the stages where bands set up to perform, horses exchanged whinnies from their stalls and baby pigs rooted around in their pen near the racetrack. 4-H club members flitted from barn to barn in preparation for the big event — the livestock auction, where they’d sell off the prized livestock they’d been raising.
For Elora Reichert, a member of Nikiski’s 4-H North Road Rangers club, that meant parting with her 8-month-old steer. He placidly munched on cud in the barn a few minutes before the auction with Reichert perched atop him, chatting with passersby. This is far from her first go-round with 4-H — she’s been involved with the club for five years.
A few cows down, her younger sister Evelyn Reichert patted her cow’s head, though it wasn’t the last time she’d do so. Only two of the cows in the barn were sold at the auction Saturday — the rest were just for show. The animals the 4-H club members bring to the fair don’t have to be sold, Elora Reichert explained.
Evelyn Reichert is an old hand in the club, too. She’s raised pigs and rabbits before, too, but the cow was a new challenge.
“(Cows) are way harder,” she said.
4-H, a national organization that features clubs with hands-on projects in a variety of fields, has a number of agriculture-specific groups on the peninsula. Nikiski’s club particularly has flourished — the North Road Rangers brought down a lot of the animals in the show and auction Saturday, Elora Reichert said. For her, it’s a step toward studying large animal veterinary medicine, she said.
“That’s what I want to study, and then come back here and do it,” she said.
The show animals attracted a lot of attention from non-buyers, too. In the next barn over, Kellee Martin, another North Road Rangers member, held up a baby Nigerian dwarf goat over the fence of a stall for a herd of young girls to fawn over and pet. For the goat, the attention seemed welcome. Martin, another multi-year member of the 4-H club, the goats were more fun to raise than some of the other animals she’s worked with.
“Sometimes they really want to come up to you, and sometimes they’re (standoffish),” she said. “They’re fun.”
A crowd filled the bleachers at the auction pen to bid on the animals, with the club member who raised the animals parading it around the ring for show — including Melanie Carpenter’s champion pig, weighing in at 287 pounds, who bore the name Thor. Politicians, businesses and individuals went around the ring making bids on the animals, with proceeds from the sales going to charity causes.
One of those causes this year was a donation fund for Dr. Jerry Nybakken, a longtime central Kenai Peninsula-area large animal veterinarian who helped corral, check and treat livestock for the 4-H clubs for years. He has regularly done so on a volunteer basis, but has not been able to do so this year because of his health. The clubs decided to put some of the proceeds from the auction aside for him. Cassy Rankin, who organizes the North Road Rangers club, said he’s long been a help to the club and the members wanted to give back.
The auction is a big part of the fair, though it’s far from the only thing going on. A parade took over the fairgrounds just after the opening Saturday. Inside the buildings, political candidates and vendors jockeyed for visitors’ attention; in the corrals, horseback riders trotted and cantered around barrels in preparation for the afternoon rodeo, and food cart owners bustled to and from their windows to take care of the long lines gathering there. From the stages, live music blared through the speakers, and a performing sword swallower took to the stage twice Saturday. Near the entrance, a smaller crowd let out peals of laughter and encouragement as people tried their hands at the fish toss, with two salmon making a wet-sounding “plop” on the pavement where the participants threw them.
The 67th Kenai Peninsula Fair continues Sunday at the Ninilchik Fairgrounds Sunday from 10 a.m.–4 p.m.