GOSHEN — When Jen Allen brought her daughter to the Elkhart County 4-H Fair, they were in good company.
Even without Saturday’s attendance numbers figured in, more than 251,000 people had come through the gates for everything from music to animals to food.
For Allen, “right now it’s rides and animals,” she said as her 2½-year-old daughter, Makenna, rode rides in Kiddie Land.
While she’s been coming to the fair from Mishawaka for six or seven years, this year’s big draw was letting her daughter experience the fair, “the attraction of the food, and for her the rides and animals.” She didn’t come out for it this year, but one of her favorite draws is “the tractor pulls on Thursday.”
This year Allen’s brother, Matt Chilton, came from Bremen with Autumn Whipple, all to have fun with a happy little girl.
As the fair drew to a close, Tim Graber, this year’s fair board president, said it was “an absolutely pleasurable experience here.”
It was a banner year for the fair. After a hot start that kept people away on the opening day of the fair Friday, July 19, for most of the fair “the weather has been perfect,” Graber said.
The eight-day attendance total of 251,000+ had already beat the nine-day attendance figures for the last two years and is on track for final figures to reach the top three in terms of total attendance.
“It’s been an awesome year,” said Sharon Wogoman, who oversees ticket sales at the gates. “It’s not just the concerts, it’s everything. It’s the weather, you look at the big days and they were wristband days, there were other things going on. There’s something for everybody.”
Though higher attendance means more traffic problems, that’s something fair organizers are working on. “Any fundraising effort we’re putting on right now is to improve traffic flow.” He heard reports of people waiting in traffic for hours to get in and out, and said, “those are the kinds of things we want to alleviate.”
Plans include a new access road to C.R. 36/College Avenue in the next few years, a road that will also allow more efficient parking tram service. “The best is really yet to come with what we can do in terms of getting people in and out of here,” Graber said.
Despite traffic problems, people came to the fair, as the attendance numbers showed and as the food vendors saw.
Ed Chupp of the Elkhart County Pork Producers said, “Things have been going well in the pork chop building, just a steady flow the whole time.”
Tim Yoder, who oversees food concessions at the fair, said the pork producers weren’t alone.
At their food sales, “4-H clubs did an awesome job, civic groups were incredible. I don’t have final numbers, but the numbers will be up,” Yoder said. Even though things got off to a slow start, the crowds for the sold-out Florida Georgia Line and Hunter Hayes concerts really helped the vendors, and new food options drew a lot of business, Yoder said.
He expects this year to set records in terms of food sales.
There was also a landmark positive indicator of community support — the record-breaking 4-H auction on Friday that raised more than $1 million for 4-H youths.
“It gets a monkey off our back. So many people wondered when it was going to happen,” said Mike Christopheno of the county’s 4-H Foundation. “It just blows you away. We’re still not completely out of a down economy and the community gives a million to 4-H’ers.”
Jeff Burbrink of the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service said it was good to break the million-dollar mark. “I wasn’t sure we’d get there,” he said.
Renee Troyer-Campbell, auction treasurer, said, “When I joined the (fair) board as auction treasurer, I thought $500,000 was a big amount,” but the auction has grown and grown.
“We have such awesome community support. Everyone in this community owns this fair,” Troyer-Campbell said.
Graber said, “People have embraced this county fair
there’s tremendous opportunity for this fair to grow in the next five to seven years.”