Weather, traditions make annual event a hit

Attendance tops 100,000 at Howard County Fair

August 16, 2006|By SANDY ALEXANDER | SANDY ALEXANDER,SUN REPORTER

Spinning rides, exciting entertainers, friendly farm animals and deep-fried foods draw visitors to the Howard County Fair every year, but Fair Association President John Fleishell said one thing ultimately helped attract more than 100,000 visitors from Aug. 5 through Saturday.

"We were blessed with good weather," he said.

A break from the previous week's heat wave was welcome at the event, where temperatures in the 80s and little rain helped boost attendance over last year.

The fair does not calculate overall attendance because the entry gate does not count free passes, free admission for children and days when senior citizens and members of the military are not charged. But Fleishell said, as one measure, ticket sales were up 17 percent over last year.

"We had an extremely successful fair," he said.

The fair closely followed its 61-year-old formula, offering 4-H activities, animal shows, demonstrations, contests and family entertainment at the fairgrounds in West Friendship.

"Livestock entries were up in every category," Fleishell said, with barns reaching capacity for cattle, chickens, goats, sheep and swine.

The antique tractor pull, the horse-pulling contest and the second mule-pulling contest all were larger than ever, Fleishell said. And the combined open and 4-H wool sheep show Tuesday had so many entrants it lasted from 6:30 p.m. until 1:30 Wednesday morning.

Members of 4-H brought hundreds of animals to the fair for competitions throughout the week and entered numerous nonlivestock contests, including arts, crafts, sewing, baking, vegetables, rocketry, computers, entomology and wildlife projects.

With nearly 700 youths enrolled in 4-H clubs led by about 300 volunteers, Howard County has one of the largest 4-H programs in the state, said Sheryl Burdette, a cooperative extension educator for 4-H and youth development. Home arts activities outside 4-H continue to thrive, as well, filing up additional display cases installed by the fair association this year, Fleishell said.

Photography is very popular, said Carolyn Kulp, superintendent of the Home Arts Department. "For the last couple of years, we've had 500-plus entries. It's a growing thing with the age of the digital camera," she said. "I think folks that come to the fair enjoy [the photography exhibit]. They say, `Oh next year I can do that.' For some people it just takes one entry."

Quilting remains popular, Kulp said, with more quilters using sewing machines this year. And while people still make jams, jellies and pickles, there were generally fewer entries in the canning categories.

Some new amenities were well-received by visitors. A service offering golf-cart rides to people who had trouble walking around was "a huge success and greatly appreciated," Fleishell said.

But for many, it is the traditions that keep them coming back.

"Everyone knows everyone," said Brooke Hartner of Woodbine, who was named Miss Howard County Farm Bureau on Aug. 6. "It's like a big reunion. You feel like you are catching up with everybody."

Karen Vanisko, a 4-H member from Ellicott City, said "showing and hanging out with my friends and entering everything" are the best parts of the fair.

Karen, who showed rabbits, sheep and a steer, said "a weeklong fair is so fun. ... If you don't win, you don't win. You try to do better next time."

sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

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