Good weather helps the fair set 1-day, overall attendance records

11,000-12,000 Wednesday

overall figure put at 12% above 2 years ago

August 13, 2002|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Fair drew the biggest single-day crowd in its 57-year history on Wednesday. The event relied on a mix of traditional agriculture, family entertainment and carnival rides - and a well-timed break in the heat wave that was baking the area - to draw between 11,000 and 12,000 visitors to West Friendship.

The first day of clear skies and cool breezes helped boost attendance on Wednesday, said Vaughn Turner, vice president of the fair association. Also, the popular annual livestock sale took place that evening and there was a barrel racing competition, which is an audience favorite.

"Everything came together nicely," Turner said.

That record followed several days when attendance was down by about 40 percent compared with the previous year, according to Mickey Day, president of the fair. The midweek boost in attendance continued through Saturday, bringing the total attendance to a new high for the fair.

The fair does not keep exact attendance numbers, Turner said. Also, it is difficult to count visitors based on ticket sales because some people use weeklong passes, children younger than 10 get in free (as do seniors and volunteers on specific days) and other situations arise. However, based on the tickets that were sold, Turner reported that this year beat the previous record year, 2000, by 12 percent.

The fair brought in more than $150,000 between Aug. 3 and 10, Turner said. He explained that even though the percentage of people in the county involved in agriculture is shrinking, the overall growth in population helps boost the number of visitors who want to see what it is all about.

The sultry weather early in the fair kept participation in several areas low. Saturday proved to be too hot for many bakers to prepare their cakes and other desserts for judging, said Mary Streaker, co-superintendent of the Home Arts Department. Entries in other arts categories, such as sewing, woodworking and painting were plentiful, with photography "growing by leaps and bounds," Streaker said.

The drought that has affected Maryland all year was felt at the fair, where organizers received less than half the usual number of vegetables and fruits for judging, according to Mary King Lyon, assistant superintendent of the department. She felt that everyone who brought in an entry deserved a ribbon.

"If you can grow [produce] in Maryland, you can grow anywhere," Lyon said.

Corn entries were also limited by the drought this year, said Charles M. Coles, farm crops superintendent. He was surprised that more of what he calls "urban agriculture" such as sunflowers and eggs, which can be raised on a small amount of land, were also down. He said people told him the heat daunted them.

However, "The hay categories were up this year and very, very good quality," Coles said.

Plenty of animals were on hand for 4-H and open competitions, with barns full of swine and sheep. There were also steady numbers in the cattle department.

And while horse shows, including the draft horse competition Sunday, had fewer entries than usual, the numbers picked up later in the week. On Friday, the fair had its largest quarter horse show ever.

Turner said improvements to the horse ring are planned for next year. The fair will also continue to look for popular musical acts for its evening entertainment, such as a country band called Grandstaff. The group, which has just signed a record contract, drew a lot of attention Saturday.

When they are nationally successful, "we hope to say we had them when," Turner said.

The band members' fathers are in the country group, the Statler Brothers.

Still, many things will continue on as they have for years.

"A lot of people ... like our fair because it's still a country-type fair," Turner said.

Day said he hopes people can come to the fair and learn a little bit about agriculture.

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