How do 4-H Fair numbers stack up nationally?

Elkhart County 4-H Fair still ranks as one of the top fairs in the world.

Posted on July 29, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on July 29, 2013 at 1:02 p.m.

GOSHEN — How big was attendance at the 2013 Elkhart County 4-H Fair? Huge. But how does it stack up to other fairs?

The final estimated attendance of the nine-day event was 280,175, according to numbers released Monday, July 29, by the fair office.

The fair got off to a record slow start July 19 due to heat and humidity, but the forecast cooler weather came through and drove strong attendance from Sunday, July 21 through Saturday, July 27, the final day of the fair. Along the way two days broke attendance records for that day of the fair.

Is this the biggest county fair?

There’s an urban legend that Elkhart County has the largest or second-largest fair in the nation. That’s a myth, though, said Kristy Ambrosen, marketing manager for the fair.

“We are not the second-largest county fair. We are a very large county 4-H fair. There are other county fairs that are bigger than us, but they are not 4-H driven,” Ambrosen said. The key difference is alcohol and tobacco. The 4-H events don’t accept sponsorship money from alcohol and tobacco companies and don’t allow sales of those products on the grounds.

“That makes a big difference, because the fairs that do, that is a large increase in income. They can bring in bigger concerts and bigger events. We seek our sponsorship money elsewhere. There are some mammoth fairs out there, but not 4-H driven. That’s where we stand apart. They’re not following the same 4-H guidelines we follow.’’

So where does it rank?

Ÿ Acreage: Ambrosen said that the Minnesota State Fair has one of the largest fairgrounds in the nation. According to the Minnesota State Fair’s site, they have 320 acres. The Elkhart County 4-H Fair now has 384 acres, which may make it physically the largest fair in the country. However, only about half of that is in use at this point, with the rest slated for future growth.

Ÿ Attendance: The International Association of Fairs and Expositions has 1,100 members worldwide, said Marla Calico, spokeswoman for the organization. While they are a voluntary organization, and only about three-quarters of their members provide attendance figures, they’re the best bet to see how the Elkhart County 4-H Fair stacks up. In terms of 4-H Fairs, in 2012 Elkhart County’s was “the second-largest 4-H fair,” behind Brown County in Aberdeen, S.D., said Calico.

“Without a doubt, though, they’re definitely in our top 100 in terms of reported attendance, and that’s fairs of all types and size,” she said, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Korea. The Elkhart County 4-H Fair is larger than some U.S. state fairs in terms of attendance, she said.

Ambrosen said the local event remains the fourth-largest ticketed event in Indiana, behind the Indianapolis 500, the Indiana State Fair and the Brickyard 400.

Does being big come with a reputation?

Calico said that before joining the IAFE staff, “I was a fair manager of a regional fair here in southwest Missouri. I knew the folks from Elkhart (County), Ind. Always they were legend in terms of what they can do,” she said.

Now that she’s part of the association staff, she’s gotten to know more of the fair staff and the board members. “They’re a great team, there’s a lot of community dedication to that event, a very hard working board, and people in our industry, they know that,” she said.

Local board representatives are active participants in IAFE events, winning awards and being willing to share what works and what doesn’t, Calico said. “They’re just a great, great member and wonderful to work with,” she said.

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