Civil War re-enactment gets new home at fairgrounds

An artillery unit on the Union side participates in a Civil War re-enactment at Fort Stevens last year.

The largest Civil War re-enactment in the Pacific Northwest will remain in Clatsop County, but not at Fort Stevens State Park, its longtime home.

The Northwest Civil War Council inked a deal Saturday with the county Fair & Expo to hold the event on Labor Day weekend at the fairgrounds.

Organizers announced in February that, after 27 years, the re-enactment would no longer be held at Fort Stevens. They said newly imposed camping fees from the state Parks and Recreation Department would increase operating costs by roughly 65 percent.

While the re-enactors spoke with a private property owner near Albany, they were hoping to keep the event nearby. John Lewis, the fair’s maintenance supervisor, contacted the council days after it announced the departure.

“After 28 years, we have a lot of people planning their vacations on coming to that area,” said Earl Bishop, the council’s chairman. “They were willing to work with us and make us feel wanted.”

The contract with the fairgrounds will include the same fees as those charged by the state park in 2017, Lewis said. “We’re always looking for events out here. We have a large enough facility to handle an event that size. It just seemed like a good opportunity for both of us.”

Bishop admitted the fairgrounds will not have the same historical appeal as Fort Stevens, which was built during the Civil War. Some of that history, in fact, may have been the driving factor in the state’s decision to impose the fees.

Both organizers and those involved with the park’s upkeep speculated that the state was concerned about the use of Confederate flags, which state officials have not confirmed or denied. Last summer, a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and a Confederate flag and rebel decals linked to an award-winning float at the Astoria Regatta prompted national and local debates. Both incidents took place on the same day, just three weeks before the re-enactment.

The re-enactors were taunted and threatened on Facebook, prompting Warrenton police to boost patrols in the area to ensure safety.

“Nobody here condones what happened in the past,” Lewis said. “We also need to learn from our past and our history — and if you don’t, you’re doomed to repeat it.”

Re-enactors typically stage battles, speeches and other demonstrations of battlefield life over the three-day weekend. Participants often pay tens of thousands of dollars toward the hobby and travel lengthy distances to the events.

The fairgrounds will offer less room on the battlefield and some structures of a different era, but it will still have good sites for camping and battles, Bishop said. He also said it will feature adequate parking and infrastructure.

The council has not ruled out a return to Fort Stevens at some point, Bishop said. For now, the contract gives the re-enactment a home this year, and the fair has penciled the event in for 2019.

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