Your guide to the 2024 Marion County Fair

Hundreds of animals and thousands of people will fill the Oregon State Fairgrounds next week as the Marion County Fair returns to town.

The annual celebration is a chance for county residents to showcase their skills in everything from llama obstacle courses to table setting — with rides, circus performances and the typical fair food to boot.

Animals are the fair’s main draw, said Jill Ingalls, fair manager, “so we’ve got lots of animals.” That includes the popular Brad’s World of Reptiles exhibit, as well as livestock on display from local FFA and 4-H students. A week of competitions ends with a livestock auction where local kids can sell the animals they’ve raised.

Admission to the fair includes all entertainment and music. Rides, food and drink cost extra.

Contestants try for the big prize midway during the Marion County Fair at the Oregon State Fairgrounds on July 8, 2023. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

Ingalls said the fair typically draws about 30,000 people. It’s had record attendance since the Covid pandemic.

When: The fair runs Thursday, July 11, through Sunday, July 14. Hours are 12-10 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Oregon State Fairgrounds and Expo Center, 2330 17th St. N.E. Exhibits are in Columbia Hall, animals on display in livestock barns on the east side of the grounds.

Cost: Tickets at the gate are $9 for adults, $5 for seniors and youth age 6-11, and free for kids 5 and under. Tickets can be purchased online in advance, which allows fairgoers to skip the line, but costs about 70 cents to $1.60 more per ticket because of added service fees. On Thursday, Honor Day, veterans, active-duty military, first responders and their immediate families receive free admission from 4-6 p.m. Sunday is Family Day, with children 12 and under free.

Parking: $5 per vehicle

Rides: Tickets must be purchased at the fair; no advance ride ticket sales or wristbands.

Orval Miller holds up Ali the American alligator for a portrait during the Marion County Fair at the Oregon State Fairgrounds on July 8, 2023. Ali is about 35 years old. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

Music and entertainment

Two entertainment stages will feature bands, a magician, a “bubbleologist” and more, while a dedicated circus area will have regular performances from Circus Imagination, a new performer.

Ingalls said the circus shows are interactive, giving kids a chance to participate. The troupe has three shows per day.

“If you come to the fair you’re going to be able to catch one of them,” Ingalls said.

A community stage features local bands, while the main stage has bigger acts. Main stage entertainment includes the Eli Young Band Friday at 7:30 p.m., country singer-songwriter Ned LeDoux Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and the Guelaguetza Folklorico Latino Dance Program Sunday at 2:45 p.m.

For Family Day on Sunday, more kid-friendly roaming performers will be out and about, including Star Wars and other costumed characters, and Clifford the Big Red Dog will handout free books from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

Adults can enjoy a full bar and music in The Woods, the fair’s 21+ area, featuring music by The Junebugs Friday and Saturday night from 9-11 p.m. “The Junebugs combine high-energy pop and rock with Pacific Northwest folksy goodness to create a genre-bending sound you can kick up your heels to,” organizers said.

A full schedule is on the fair website.

The Cherry City Cloggers take to the stage at during the Marion County Fair at the Oregon State Fairgrounds on July 9, 2023. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

Animals, 4H and FFA

Livestock showing begins before the fair opens to the public and continues through Sunday.

Events include more traditional competitions, like showmanship, alongside animal costume contests, potato Olympics and a swine dodgeball fundraiser.

Potato Olympic competitions are open to youth. Individuals or small teams will decorate a potato and compete in “amusing Olympic events and challenges such as bobsled, gymnastics, long jump and sprint,” organizers said. The Olympics run daily at 3 p.m. in the 4-H area of Columbia Hall.

The dodgeball fundraiser is from 7-8 p.m. Thursday in the livestock barn, and the auction begins at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Costume contests are held several times on Sunday.

A full schedule of 4H and FFA events is here.

Visitors say hello to goats in the livestock barn at the Marion County Fair on Friday, July 9, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Exhibits and contests

Registration for many contests is closed, but expert cheesecake bakers, Lego sculptors and gardeners can still enter to have their work judged at the fair.

This year’s competitions include Lego live tournaments running Sunday afternoon. Kids age 4-17 can bring their own Legos and compete, with 30 minutes to build a project. Speed-building competitions where competitors use the same provided Lego set also run throughout the day.

Bakers can enter cheesecakes Sunday between 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. in the food department at Columbia Hall. Judging is at 1 p.m., and people with cheesecake in hand receive free fair admission.

Attendees can browse hundreds of entries in dozens of categories submitted by Marion County residents. Those include fairy gardens, calligraphy, photography, quilts and hand-spun yarn.

Information about exhibits and entering contests is on the fair exhibits page.

These blueberry muffins got third place at the Marion County Fair at the Oregon State Fairgrounds on July 9, 2023. (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.