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Several ups, a few downs

By Staff | Jul 7, 2009

Some events went over well, some not so well, but for the most part the 2009 Pierce County Fair will go down as a success.

“There are always going to be popular events and ones that flop,’ said Gloria Vetsch, fair board member. “(The board) does its best to plan ones that will attract people and get them to participate. We’ll look back and talk about what was popular and what didn’t work and why, and how we can make next year better.”

Although hard attendance figures have yet to been determined, several fair members estimated the two-day total was at par with or higher than last year’s 1,700 count.

Fair planners did an effective job in providing free stage events and contests that attracted people of all ages to the fairgrounds.

“That’s one of our goals – to get people participating,’ said Don Jelsing, fair board member.

Despite a brief early morning rain shower on July 4, weather conditions were nearly perfect. “We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather,’ Jelsing said.

Jelsing said good attendance is needed to pay the bills, but the success of the fair is not simply associated with how many people pass through the entrance gates.

“We want fairgoers to have a positive experience, and whether that’s accomplished with 2,000 or 200 people makes no difference to me,’ he said. “Of course, you want a lot of people to enjoy the fair, but it’s not about the numbers.”

In addition to the fair board, several residents volunteered to work the front gate, sell game tickets, run contests or were part of the crew setting up or taking down tables and gates.

“This event wouldn’t be possible without those who are willing to give some of their free time,’ Vetsch said. “And to do so on their holiday as well is much appreciated.”

Donations and sponsorships from a number of businesses and individuals were also appreciated, and paid for some of the free entertainment featured.

Several large and small events were popular. Among them were the Fun on the Run inflatable games for kids. The petting zoo saw a steady stream of fairgoers, especially children. And several took part in the contests, including the Guitar Hero and Hannah Montana Lip Sync contest run by Freddie Prez Attractions. The pedal tractor pull also had a number of participants.

The two grandstand events – the side-by-side pick-up mud runs and hidden talent show, which featured several local acts, drew good crowds. And tickets sold out for the pitchfork steak fondue on July 4.

The biggest disappointment came in the evening as sparse crowds turned out in the beer gardens both nights for the live bands – Tin Star and Bob and the Beachcombers.

“I was surprised there weren’t people elbow-to-elbow in there on Saturday night (for Bob and the Beachcombers,’ Jelsing said. “They come with a good reputation for putting on excellent shows. “It’s really a mystery why crowds were so low.”

Perhaps the style of music didn’t attract audiences, or the $10 admission fee, or because it was inside the beer gardens and not outside were possible reasons people didn’t take in the entertainment.

In the past, good crowds have come out to see live music. Jelsing said the board will have to consider changes that will encourage a bigger turnout for musical acts in the future.

Another downer was fewer food vendors. “A few people expressed disappointment in the lack of more food vendors,’ Vetsch said.

The fair association will meet soon to go look back on this year’s two-day event and determine the finances. Last year’s fair ended up in the black. Eventually, focus will begin on planning next year’s event.

Debate on future fair date is likely

The fair association will have to pick a date for next year’s fair, and there most certainly will be debate as to whether to continue to hold it on or near the Fourth of July.

Vetsch is one member who wants to move it away from the holiday, noting it affects attendance and volunteer help. Many choose to go to the lakes or camping. And it’s difficult to compete with neighboring Towner, which traditionally draws good crowds for its dance, parade and events on July 3-4, she added.

“We cannot have a fair on the Fourth,’ Vetsch said. “There is a reason why other county fairs aren’t held at that time, and it’s because of the challenges of getting help, drawing crowds and getting vendors and other events.”

Jelsing’s view is a fair can work around the Fourth of July, and he said it’s one reason the fair was resurrected – to create events around the holiday the community can take part in, and to coincide with family and class reunions that often are scheduled at that time. Plus, Rugby-Pierce County’s 125th anniversary is two years away, including an all-school reunion, and those events are planned for July 1-3.

He added changing the date has its challenges. Neighboring Bottineau and Wells counties hold their fairs in late June. If the fair board is looking at scheduling a fair for mid to late June, it would be very difficult to get food and entertainment vendors, since many are booked to come back each year to Bottineau and Wells counties. Scheduling a fair after the Fourth of July runs into the issue of competing with the N.D. State Fair in Minot.

Jelsing said putting on a fair later in the summer, in August, for example, is a possibility, but there are other challenges to contend with, namely harvest.

It may be best to keep the event on or near the Fourth of July, at least through 2011, Rugby-Pierce County’s 125th anniversary celebration, and then evaluate whether changing the fair dates to another time is needed, Jelsing said.

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