Friday’s opening of the 57th annual Bartholomew County 4-H Fair was an ideal place for thousands of residents to kick off their three-day holiday weekend.
With sun in the sky and 70s on the thermometer, Fair Board Secretary Susan Arnholt described fairgrounds conditions as ideal, with a projected attendance approaching 8,000.
Bigger fair crowds of 15,000 are expected today and Sunday, when 4-H attractions won’t be competing directly against holiday backyard family gatherings and fireworks displays, Arnholt said.
Today’s attendance could be among the biggest of the nine-day run, with crowd-favorite Demolition Derby and Auto Cross at the Grandstand starting at 7 p.m.
Another big draw for today is Midnight Madness Midway, when unlimited rides are offered from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. with the purchase of a $10 wristband.
The only day that might bring a larger crowd would be Wednesday, when the midway opens at noon for Kid’s Day and the purchase of a $12 wristband provides unlimited rides for people of all ages, Arnholt said.
The midway, presented by Burton Brothers Amusements for the fifth consecutive year, features attractions such as Power Surge and Gravitron along with traditional favorites such as the Scrambler, Ferris wheel and Tilt-a-Whirl.
Hours before Friday’s 5 p.m. midway opening and the official start of the fair, more than 160 adults and children gathered for the annual 4-H Poultry Show.
While the appeal of caged hens and roosters is lost on some city folks, Mickey and Mindy Sheard explained that poultry-raising families have always supported one another in Bartholomew County.
As she watched daughters Laura, 13, and Faith, 10, display their birds, Mindy Sheard noted she and her husband have a lot more than money invested in their exhibits.
“It’s not like watching the kids play ball, and we just sit on the sidelines,” she said. “We are actually out there with our daughters every day, working with these animals.”
“They’ve spent so many weeks preparing for the fair,” Mickey Sheard said. “We really enjoy looking at the kids and seeing all the fun they are having showing their animals.”
Elsewhere on the fairgrounds, Kiwanis Club members are teaming up with the Columbus East High School band.
Together, the adults and teens plan to serve about 8,500 pork and beef dinners, as well as 1,700 chicken breast dinners, and raise more than $10,000 to be shared by both the band and Kiwanis-sponsored youth activities, past club president Kate Baird said.
Following a long tradition, the service club had the same menu decades ago when the fairgrounds were located at the current site of FairOaks Mall in Columbus.
“We’ve always done this, and we will always do this,” Baird said. “It’s not only because it’s tradition, but because it’s what people want, and we fill a niche that’s not available elsewhere at the fair.”
Like Kiwanis, most food vendors at the fair prefer to stick with what’s worked in the past.
“We’ve gotta have our homemade ice cream, our pork chops, our chicken dinners,” Arnholt said.
But there is at least one group that plans to buck more than a 40-year fair tradition.
Instead of selling lemon shakeups, the Rugby UB Church near Hope — affiliated with the Church of the United Brethren in Christ — plans to raise money by selling caramel apple bowls this year, Arnholt said.
Instead of money, some fair exhibitors are hoping to raise awareness.
For the third year, volunteers will work a fair booth for the Bartholomew County Bears football program.
The 40-year-old program, formerly known as Taylorsville Bantam Football, changed its name last year to make it clear that activities for players and cheerleaders are open to every Bartholomew County child in elementary school, program vice president Tony London said.
“We’ve had a lot of growth the last couple of years, and we think the fair has a lot to do with it,” London said. “We’ve had sign-up days at different places, but how many times do you have thousands of people walk by you on a nightly basis?”
While live music, rides and grandstand attractions all have strong appeal, Mother Nature typically has the last word on daily fair attendance.
Since the widespread impact of Hurricane Arthur on the East Coast is likely to keep conditions in the Midwest unstable for the next few days, fair board members will be keeping an exceptionally close eye on the weather, Arnholt said.
To help handle today’s large crowds and alleviate parking headaches, the city’s ColumBUS program will provide 25-cent special shuttle service to the fair.
Buses will leave the Mill Race Station Depot at Eighth and Lindsey streets on the hour starting at 10 a.m. today. Rides back to downtown Columbus leave the fairgrounds on the half-hour until 4 p.m..
While no shuttle will be offered Sunday, the service will resume Monday.