News & Media
The county fair is one of the traditions that we missed last year because of the pandemic, and today I’m very excited to talk about the reopening of the fairs this fall.
The first known organized fair in the United States was a sheep-shearing contest in 1807 in Pennsylvania. Fairs expanded to include the judging of homemade muscadine jelly and green beans in Mason jars, merry-go-rounds, beauty pageants, basketball toss, and foods we eat only once a year. Fairs are a big deal in dozens of communities in Arkansas.
Barbie Washburn, president of the Arkansas Fair Managers Association, says the loss of last year’s fair season hurt small towns such as Marvel, where she lives and works. She also is president of the TriCounty Fair, which includes Philips, Lee, and Monroe counties.
She has loved the fair since childhood. She said, “As soon as it started rolling in, I could hear it and feel it. I couldn’t wait to ride the Ferris wheel and eat cotton candy.”
Now she lives three blocks from the TriCounty fairground. She said that last year, she missed walking outside onto her patio to listen to the sounds and see the lights.
She said, “Our attendance is usually 10,000. People come to town, buy gas, eat at the local diner. When the carnival’s here, the washateria is used 24/7.”
The fair buys feed from the local feed store, and supplies from the hardware store. That didn’t happen last year.
Just about all of the county fairs are reopened for this fall. Now, some of the fairs that are reopening won’t have a midway with rides and games because some of the carnival companies didn’t survive the pandemic. But Freddy Miller, whose parents Johnny and Sue started Miller Spectacular Shows in Greenbrier, said his family’s company has had a phenomenal recovery this year.
The survival of county fairs is important to our communities. In July, I asked the Department of Agriculture to release $1.8 million in premium and construction funding to fairs. Going back to 2019, the state has allocated $3.8 million.
Barbie really wants county fairs to survive. She fears losing another event that brings a community together. That’s what the county fair is for. You see people you may not see any other time of the year. The fair is especially important for making memories for children. And for me that is really important. Each year my daughter, Sarah, and I look forward to going to the fair. We ride rides and look at the exhibits from across the state.
I am confident that county fairs will continue to thrive. The Saline County Fair, Bull Riding, and Rodeo is returning this year, and I happen to know that because I am riding in the parade. I am happy to note that I’m doing it for the fun of it and to show my support for the fair.