The coronavirus pandemic wiped the Montgomery County Fair off last year’s calendar. But the break boosted interest in the weeklong event that began Sunday, people eager to renew friendships and rekindle the tradition say.
“It’s really nice to be able to spend the whole week with all my friends,” said 4-H member Charity Moore. “I missed seeing them last year.”
Moore, who will be showing cattle and goats this week, is looking forward to revived camaraderie and shared experiences.
“We definitely help each other out if we need help showing or getting animals ready,” she said. “Sometimes we’ll just go sit under the tent and play a game of cards to break away from all the animals for a little while or we’ll go and watch the grandstand events. You’re never bored.”
Moore, 17, from Germantown, has been involved in 4-H for more than 11 years, and will be a senior at Valley View High School, where she also participates in FFA.
The fair will kick off with an opening ceremony at noon and runs through Saturday at the Fairgrounds & Event Center of Montgomery County, 645 Infirmary Road in Jefferson Twp.
The theme of the 169th fair, “A New Decade of Fun, ‘Take Two’ at the Montgomery County Fair,” is a nod to the lost year.
The number of show items and animals registered for the fair is running ahead of the last fair held in 2019. More household arts items such as quilts, crafts and antiques will be on display. And the number of show animals registered is also higher for almost every species, said Mark Jimison, president of the Montgomery County Agricultural Society, the board that operates the fair and its grounds.
“They’ve had a lot of time at home to dig into things and they want to get out (to) show their wares,” he said. “They put a lot of hard work into it and they are ready to show it off to the community again.”
Interest in 4-H also grew during the pandemic, growing from roughly 350 participants to about 400 in Montgomery County, said Betty Wingerter, an Ohio State University Extension 4-H youth development educator based in the county.
“I think what happened over the COVID, families started looking for other things for their children to do,” she said. “They were looking for something good and wholesome … for their kids to be involved in.”
Wingerter said many of the new members are now involved in activities unrelated to raising livestock, including food and nutrition, photography, rocketry, sewing, shooting sports and woodworking.
“They’re meeting people outside their normal realm of things and even finding kind of a new persona for themselves,” she said.
Attendance reports from the five Ohio counties that already held fairs this year indicate attendance is also trending above pre-pandemic numbers, Jimison said.
“We’re gearing up for such a thing, and I think we’re ready,” he said.
A large petting zoo and the opportunity to ride a camel will be new to visitors this year on top of the customary amusement rides, grandstand events and food vendors.
It was more challenging to find food vendors this year as some who previously worked the fair were forced out of business by the pandemic, according to Jimison.
Last year was financially tough as well on the Montgomery County Agricultural Society, which also runs the year-round event center that was unable to host many, Jimison said.
“With the COVID, money was tight,” he said. “We had to watch every dollar last year with no shows going on of any kind.”
The Montgomery County Agricultural Society had operating receipts of $558,799 during the fiscal year ending Nov. 30, 2019, which plummeted to $156,218 last year, according to fair board balance sheets.
“We’re hoping for this year things get back on track and maybe we can start moving forward again on our planned construction,” Jimison said.
One project put on hold was connecting the two existing animal barns with a third to form a single “H” barn. The middle portion is designed to be the future showring. Bathrooms and showers are also planned at the campground, which are needed in order to open up to the public and begin generating revenue, according to fair officials.
Despite the pandemic downturn, the fair board made modest infrastructure gains, adding a new clay surface to the horse arena and rebuilding the announcer’s stand at the track, Jimison said.
Though the fair was canceled last year, the county still held a drive-through Junior Livestock Show. But it was no substitute for the weeklong gathering, said John Gilbert, 17, who also attends Valley View High School and will be showing hogs and lambs this week.
“It was definitely strange, especially being here with no visitors, no community support,” he said. “It worked out pretty well for how it was with all the restrictions ... But it’s definitely good to be back this year in the normal fair setting.”
HOW TO GO
What: The 169th Montgomery County Fair
When: July 11-17. Open Sunday from noon to 10 p.m.; Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Where: Fairgrounds & Event Center of Montgomery County, 645 Infirmary Road, Jefferson Twp.
Cost: Daily admission $10/person, age 6 and under free with paying adult. Includes parking, if available. Discounted pricing will be available for veterans, senior citizens and first responders on Tuesday, July 13.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Rides will be open on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Monday through Saturday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. All-day ride wristbands are $20 per person.
Aside from carnival rides, fairgoers can also enjoy a number of other amusement fixtures, including games, demo-derby, Tug-A-Truck, tractor pulls, pig races, a dog show, a petting zoo and a number of 4-H and FFA programs. An entertainment tent will also showcase live acts throughout the week.
More than 20 food vendors will be on site serving up a number of different food options, including midway classics like elephant ears, funnel cake and shaved ice, as well as more unique items like stromboli, bacon corn dogs and chipotle grilled chicken tacos.
The fair features truck and tractor pulls and demolition derbies. The Rolling Stone Rodeo kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Horse Arena. The event is included with paid gate admission.
A full schedule of events can be found by visiting the Montgomery County Fair’s website, www.montcofair.com.