(Photo by Michael Fischer)
A total of 318,885 people walked through the multiple gates at the Clay County Fair, which concluded its nine-day run on Sunday. The attendance figures make 2012 the fourth most attended fair in the 95-year history of the "world's greatest county fair."
"I think it was a combination of great weather, great crowds and a great response to what we had going on here at the fair," Jeremy Parsons, Clay County Fair manager, said. "I think people responded well to what we had here."
He continued, "Somebody said, 'It's hard to believe with this great weather there wasn't an attendance record.' Our core audience has always been the farmer and some of them were otherwise occupied."
Parsons noted, with the early harvest conditions and ideal weather, area farmers probably spent a little more time in the fields during the fair's run, and less time on the grounds.
Thrill seekers, on the other hand, spent plenty of time at the Midway. GoldStar Amusements set a Clay County Fair record for all-time gross sales, as well as a single day mark on Saturday, Sept. 15.
"They weren't even open one day. Wednesday was a wash out with the rain," Parsons said.
Dave Simington, Clay County Fair board president, was pleased with the overall outcome of the 2012 edition.
"We're very pleased. God gave us the weather and Jeremy was ready to take advantage of it. I think everything went exceptionally well."
Simington acknowledged Parsons' contributions in his first year, as well as the transition process.
"He (Parsons) has an extremely good handle and knowledge of the fair business. I think his youth and personality have really gelled with the whole community," Simington said. "Phil (Hurst, Parsons' predecessor) did an excellent job also. And Phil did an absolutely perfect job in the transition, which added to the success of Jeremy taking over."
Those attending the fair this year were treated to several new opportunities.
Fairgoers were introduced to several new food options including: Mediterranean meatballs, double bacon corn dogs, Minneapple pies, Danger Dogs, deep fried pickle dawgs, and pineapple whips, among others.
A record 516 vendors displayed at the fair, and the Innovation Pavilion, in its first year, provided 10 local entrepreneurs the chance to showcase their innovative products.
Another new addition this year allowed local performers to take the stage as part of the free entertainment offerings.
"Personally, it was a very smooth fair. There's always little things that come up, but for me and my staff it was a very smooth fair," Parsons said. "There seemed to be a real positive and enthusiastic attitude on the fairgrounds from vendors and fairgoers. We received lots of compliments on the friendliness of our staff."
Parsons credited the volunteers with carrying out the fair's special focus in 2012.
"This fair is volunteer-driven and volunteer-based. My job as fair manager is to make sure all those volunteers are enthusiastic in what they're working for. I think the volunteers felt they were part of the team. Everybody kind of understood the big picture in terms of customer service this year and they did a great job of delivering that customer service," Parsons said.
Thousands of exhibitors worked to earn blue ribbons and more than $95,000 in premium money. The open class draft horse show featured 10 six-horse hitches, while the number of exhibitors in the agriculture department -- horticulture, farm crops and others -- increased from 116 exhibitors in 2011 to 152 exhibitors in 2012.
More than 700 youth exhibited in the 4-H and FFA competitions. The youth, which represented 41 counties in Iowa and Minnesota, displayed 3,200 exhibits, up from 2,861 in 2011.
A total of 25,066 attended Grandstand events. The largest crowds attended the World of Outlaws and Casting Crowns with special guest Britt Nicole.
School-age children, numbering 654, visited the fair on field trips as part of the Ag-Citing program.
The fair drew national media attention from the Food Channel, statewide coverage from Iowa Public Television's "Iowa's Simple Pleasures," and regional coverage from numerous radio, print and TV journalists.
Parsons noted the real "dollars and cents" revenue numbers will be revealed during the fair's annual meeting in October.
So what can those attending the 2013 fair expect?
"That's the challenge," Parsons chuckled. "Quite honestly I'm working on about a five- or six-year list. What you saw this year was just the things I wanted to tackle this year.
"If people are looking for a stamp on the new fair manager, there will be introduction to lots of new things that will keep this fair tied to the region it represents."
He added, "We're going to build up to that centennial fair in 2017."
The 2013 Clay County Fair will be Sept. 7-15.