Grange Fair preview: Tent and RV camping a time honored tradition

Christie Bitner, 81, left, and Don Day, 80, both of Howard, talk as they sit in front of a tent at the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair.
Christie Bitner, 81, left, and Don Day, 80, both of Howard, talk as they sit in front of a tent at the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair. CDT file photo

As the Grange Fair gears up to handle its more than 200,000 visitors this year, so do the thousands of campers who make up a small town’s worth of residents for the week of food, agriculture and fun.

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, fair General Manager Darlene Confer said.

She and her crews began setting up the 14-by-14-foot tents, which are owned by the fair, July 21, 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.

Of course, the opportunity to camp is elusive for many given the fair’s legendary waiting list. Would-be tenters were welcome to have their names added to a list a few years back, but tents rarely become available.

This year, about 99 percent of the prior tenters have returned, Confer said.

“It’s just a year-to-year thing,” she said. “We have our families where they want to be in August. Things don’t change too much.”

But one unique change is giving a handful of families a chance to spend a night in one of the Grange tents, she said. A vacated tent will be dolled up with a bed and numerous amenities as an example of glamor camping, or “glamping.”

“The people who had used it gave it up,” she said, “so we kept it for this special sponsorship for a different aspect; something different for the fair.”

Seven Mountains Media sales representative Cathy Brown said the idea for a glamping arose last year, but she didn’t anticipate a tent would become available. Through radio promotion, families could register to win a night in the tent, with eight families chosen during Grange Fair Night with the State College Spikes.

The tent will be decorated much like a hotel room with a miniature kitchen and areas to change clothes, she said. And, like a hotel, families would be able to check in in the early evening, enjoy a night at the fair and check out the next afternoon.

“It’s going to be a really fancy tent with lots of lights,” Confer said, “and it’s going to be right off Rhone Avenue.”

There are no new names among RV and camper crowd, said George Witherite, who heads the RV and camper section.

Witherite said he and his crew began staking out spots for the RVs Aug. 13, measuring each space and marking it with a number. Parking the RVs was spread out over four days starting Aug. 14, with crew members guiding the vehicles to their spaces.

The biggest change this year, Witherite said, was in the row numbers. This was done to make the RV section more accessible to fire company and ambulance services to respond to incidents.

The sites themselves haven’t changed, he said, just the row numbers. Returning campers will still have their old spots thanks to the dutiful efforts of Witherite and his crew relabeling each camper’s number.

“I just think this is going to be a really fantastic fair,” Confer said. “We’re hoping for good weather. We have a lot going on and a lot of events for our tenters and RV-ers and all the guests who come.”