If there is one constant to the Grange Fair, it’s the camping.
Every year, a small town’s worth of people set up for a week of tent and recreational-vehicle living at the Grange fairgrounds in Centre Hall. And in this 140th year of the fair, nothing has changed.
“So many people’s lives revolve around those last two weeks of August,” fair General Manager Darlene Confer said.
The 1,000 tents and 1,500 RVs house an undetermined number of people, as 10 to 15 people can work out a living situation in a single tent, Confer said.
She and her crews began setting up the 14-by-14-foot tents, which are owned by the fair, on July 30, she said. The goal is to have everything in place for move-in day on Aug. 20.
Tent residents are allowed to install a 4-by-14-foot porch or a 6-by-14-foot kitchen.
“Some people have very elaborate systems,” she said. “Some will use half the tent as a kitchen, some have awnings for their front porches. They have everything.”
Of course, having the opportunity to camp is dependent on the fair’s legendary waiting list. Compiled several years ago, campers were welcomed to have their name added to a list for tents that become available.
“The list got to be about 500 people,” Confer said. “For many years, it remained closed. We were only able to get one or two people in a year. It was at a point where it didn’t make sense to take names. It gave people false hope.”
Last year, the camp was able to add 17 new spaces, allowing for some new faces in the tent city.
“Some people have been waiting for a spot for 30 years,” she said.
Sometimes spots open up when a family buys an RV, she said, and some families simply decide they aren’t interested in camping anymore.
In some cases, if a group is disruptive or creates issues, they can lose their spot.
“That’s the reason we can have people live in close proximity with no problems,” Confer said. “No one wants to lose their tents.”
It’s a similar situation with the RVs, said George Witherite, who heads the RV and camper section.
“It’s a real sense of community,” he said. “People come in, they get to know their neighbors and they don’t want to move their spots.”
Like Confer, Witherite works off of a list of about 500 names. But for the first time in a few years, he hasn’t had as many cancellations as he was expecting.
“This is the first year this has happened,” he said. “People always call ahead if they have to cancel. We’ve only had a few cancellations, and I’m still a few spaces short.”
Filling an empty camper spot is not the same as filling an empty tent, he said. Campers and RVs are designated to slots according to size. If a 30-foot RV slot opens, it has to be filled with another 30-foot RV.
RVs can range in size from 23 feet to 40 feet, he said. The smallest camper so far this year is 18 feet; the largest is 45 feet.
Witherite said he and his crew will begin staking out spots for the RVs on Aug. 14, measuring each space and marking it with a number. Parking the RVs is spread out over four days starting Aug. 16, with crew members guiding the vehicles to their spaces.
“I select who comes in over what days,” Witherite said. “The people who come in the first days go against fences or along the road so we don’t block the road for the rest of the days.”
Registration cards for the tents and the campers are sent out in April with a due date in June. The RVs that have a permanent spot are easy to sort out, Witherite said. They simply go back to the same spot. If someone has a bigger camper than last year, he has to find a bigger spot.
“It doesn’t always go smoothly,” he said, “but we get through it.”