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Attendance grows at Benton County Fair

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Photographs by Ben Goff

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.

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

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 Count...

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

Today’s Benton County Fair schedule

7 a.m.: Horse show registration, Horse Arena

9 a.m.: Fair gates open

9 a.m.: Horse show, Horse Arena

1 p.m.: Awards ceremony, Auditorium

3 p.m.: Carnival opens, Midway

3 p.m.: Barrel racing exhibition, Horse Arena

5 p.m.: Barrel racing (youth-junior and adult), Horse Arena

5 p.m.: Antique tractor pull, south of Midway

5 p.m.: Buyers’ dinner for livestock auction, Livestock Barn

6:30 p.m.: Junior Livestock Auction, Livestock Barn

Source: Staff report

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.

NW News on 08/12/2017

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