Vibes + Volunteers = Safe Fair: 'If we have two arrests ... it's a big year'

VENETA, Ore. -- Managing about 16,000 people at the Oregon Country Fair is a daunting task, yet general manager Charlie Ruff said his dedicated team of volunteers makes the process of crowd management easy.

Ruff and the former GM Leslie Scott both say they have only had a handful of problems with attendees a year, and they attribute it to fair-goers being friendly and respectful.

"If you go to a football game during the season here in town, their arrests are in the number of hundreds," Ruff said. "If we have two arrests for trespassing over the course of the weekend here, it's a big year."

Ruff said this year, like many before, has been peaceful out on the 80-acre fairgrounds in Veneta.

While the crowds generally come through their gates with a positive mind-set, Scott said the staff also has a lot to do with the Oregon Country Fair's great track record.

"We have almost 1,400 security staff that go through our humanistic training, (to) learn how to do kind, de-escalated interventions," Scott said. "We always try to find the softer, kinder way."

Ruff said the fair works closely with Lane County Sheriff's Deputies, so they are prepared if an incident should arise.

At the heart of the Country Fair security effort is 'fair central', a hub that helps coordinate the more than 3,500 formal volunteers.

"They cover also all of our operational areas, as well as book entertainment, facilitate for our elders we have a 4-A crew that helps us with alter-abled issues, distribute wheel chairs, give people access rides," Ruff said.

Fair Central also coordinates medical staff and emergency calls that come in around the fairgrounds.

Each day staff members truck in tens of thousands of gallons of water, and remove the tons of trash, compost and recycling that gets generated.

Ruff says the annual event would not be possible without the help of the thousands of other non-official volunteers who dedicate their time and efforts each year. The Oregon Country Fair is a non-profit philanthropic organization, and brings in around $9 million to the local economy each year.