With a fraction of the budget of other counties and a display they built themselves at home, Rich and Kathy White not only took home another gold medal at the California State Fair for their Inyo County exhibit, but also one of the most important awards offered at the 17-day event.
The Whites, aided by a hearty contingent of fellow volunteers, secured for Inyo County the 2013 People’s Choice Award – a sought-after honor that’s viewed as an endorsement of the tens of thousands of fairgoers who visit the California’s Counties Exhibit portion of the State Fair.
Twenty-five counties had exhibits on display this year, taking advantage of the opportunity to promote themselves to tourists and potential transplants by highlighting aspects of their counties that range from agriculture and art, to history and industry.
With a budget of $13,000 – half of which went to pay for volunteers’ gas money, motel rooms and one-corndog-a-day meal allotment (“You can’t stand more than one corndog a day,” Kathy joked) – the Whites designed and engineered a three-dimensional, interactive, multi-media exhibit that highlighted the Owens Valley and Death Valley and included slideshows and opportunities for photo-ops.
The county’s natural resources, from its desert landscape to rugged mountains to riparian habitats, were highlighted, along with its cultural heritage and cinematic legacy.
Murals were painted by Ruby Garza, Ken Ebert constructed birds to soar overhead, Manzanar National Historic Site provided a replica of Block 34, the National Park Service shared photos of Death Valley and the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce offered up images from its 2012 photo contest.
Death Valley “Skelly” was back for photo-ops, and movie stars from films made on location in Inyo could be seen hanging out in front of the Film History Museum portion of the exhibit.
Judging for the medals took place July 11. According to the State Fair, exhibits were judged on “content, marketability, craftsmanship, creativity and use of technology.”
Inyo County’s exhibit received a gold medal, which the Whites explained is akin to an “A” grade.
The State Fair began July 12 and ran through July 28. During that time, the Whites made sure Inyo County’s booth was staffed every day, all day. Volunteers worked 11- to 12-hour shifts (from opening to closing), offering additional information about Inyo County when needed, providing literature when asked and simply maintaining a friendly presence.
According to the Whites, Inyo County and Solano County were the only two exhibitors to have fully-staffed booths and it was evident from both the traffic the displays received and visitor comments that having someone on hand to answer questions or even offer a friendly smile is key.
“It makes a big difference,” Rich told the Inyo County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 6, noting “a lot of” fairgoers thanked the Inyo volunteers this year for having a staffed booth.
“If somebody’s not there, the people will just walk by,” Rich said later, explaining the volunteers will try to draw visitors in as they pass. “We say, ‘Welcome to Inyo County’ …”
Being there also gives the volunteers the opportunity to receive feedback from fairgoers.
Kathy noted that, again, people came up to them and said, “‘You said to visit your county, so we did and we had an enjoyable time and will be back.’”
According to Kathy, during the 17-day Fair, Inyo’s volunteers made contact with more than 21,000 visitors who requested more than 8,000 pieces of literature – covering local attractions such as the Lone Pine Film History Museum and Manzanar National Historic Site. The most popular periodical is the Inyo County Visitor Guide, Rich said. In fact, a gentleman came up to him this year and said he visits the State Fair every year and makes it a point to pick up a copy from the Inyo County booth.
During the Whites’ update to the Board on Aug. 6 (the county provides the money for the exhibit), the supervisors expressed appreciation to the couple, who have been spearheading this homegrown promotional effort for the past seven years – creating displays far superior to other counties who shell out $30,000 to $60,000 for exhibits built by professional firms.
Residents have the chance to see Inyo County’s award-winning display up close and personal at the Eastern Sierra Tri-County Fair Aug. 29 through Sept. 1.
Volunteers are needed and may call the Whites at (760) 878-8109 to offer their services.