At­ten­dance grows first three days of fair to 13,500

Free ad­mis­sion a first for an­nual event

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - TOM SISSOM

BEN­TONVILLE — Ben­ton County Fair or­ga­niz­ers said the first three days of at­ten­dance set a near-record pace they hope to sus­tain through to­day.

“We’re in good shape.” Ash­ley Hays, Fair Board pres­i­dent, said Fri­day morn­ing. “So far, it’s been a home run.”

The com­bined at­ten­dance for the first three days was around 13,500, Hays said. At­ten­dance has fluc­tu­ated in re­cent years be­tween 10,000 and 17,000. Hays is op­ti­mistic that with free ad­mis­sion and good weather the 2017 at­ten­dance could top the best of those years. The county fair ends to­day, capped by the an­nual Ju­nior Live­stock Auc­tion.

“It’s been great, at­ten­dance is way above last year,” Hays said. “All the ven­dors

are re­port­ing good busi­ness. If we have two more good nights we’ll blow the top off it.”

Mild tem­per­a­tures have been help­ful, and rain wasn’t a fac­tor the fair’s first three days, Hays said. It rained Fri­day morn­ing, and rain is in to­day’s fore­cast.

Free ad­mis­sion this year is a first for the fair. Ad­mis­sion last year was $5 per per­son for those 7 and older, with chil­dren 6 and younger get­ting in free. Fair or­ga­niz­ers rounded up spon­sors — in­clud­ing Wal-Mart Stores Inc., McKee Foods and Ar­vest — to al­low for the free ad­mis­sion this year.

Hays said he’s heard from many peo­ple about the free ad­mis­sion, many of whom are first-time attendees.

“We’ve got­ten a lot of new faces, peo­ple I’ve never seen be­fore,” he said. “I think it’s served its pur­pose, and we’re re­ally grate­ful to our spon­sors.”

Jeremy Pow­ell of Low­ell said Fri­day his fam­ily at­tends the fair ev­ery year. Pow­ell said he’s no­ticed a dif­fer­ence in at­ten­dance this year.

“It’s great not to have to pay for ad­mis­sion,” Pow­ell

said. “It helps get peo­ple to come out.”

Fri­day was Melissa White’s first time to at­tend the fair. She lives in Fayet­teville af­ter re­cently mov­ing from Texas.

“I’m en­joy­ing it, and it re­minds me of the times we use to at­tend the State Fair in Texas,” she said.

Free ad­mis­sion was a draw for her, White said.

“That’s good for the com­mu­nity and en­ables ev­ery­one to come out and en­joy them­selves at the fair,” she said.

El­don Cripps, Fair Board vice pres­i­dent, ex­pects or­ga­niz­ers will make a greater ef­fort to re­cruit spon­sors to make free ad­mis­sion pos­si­ble again next year.

“We did that with about two months of time do­ing it,” he said. “We’ll have a meet­ing right af­ter the fair to dis­cuss how things went, and I’m sure this will be one of the things we’ll talk about. Let’s get on this.”

Cripps said the Fair Board can only do a rough com­par­i­son of at­ten­dance from this year to past years be­cause of the dif­fer­ences in ad­mis­sion charges and with chil­dren 6 and younger be­ing ad­mit­ted free. Head counts this year are above past es­ti­mates, he said.

“On Tues­day night, even if you say half the peo­ple were 6 or un­der, we were still more than dou­ble last year, pos­si­bly triple last year. The car­ni­val folks are very happy. A cou­ple of our food ven­dors have told me it was the best open­ing night they’ve ever had. Some of them even ran out of food the first night. They were ex­pect­ing just a normal open­ing night. So this idea is def­i­nitely work­ing,” Cripps said.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF

Tabitha Craw­ley (left) of Maysville shows her tiger Mada­gas­car hiss­ing cock­roaches to He­len Jack­son of Ben­tonville Fri­day at the Ben­ton County Fair in Ben­tonville. Craw­ley is study­ing en­to­mol­ogy for her 4-H project, and was a state win­ner last year with her col­lec­tion of pre­served in­sect spec­i­mens.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/BEN GOFF • @NWABENGOFF

Cpl. Zac Hale shows Tabitha Lantz, 10, of Bella Vista how to make a fin­ger­print Fri­day at the Ben­ton County Sher­iff’s Of­fice ta­ble at the Ben­ton County Fair in Ben­tonville.

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