Don't Miss Your County Fair
by Bonnie Williamsonn
For the past sixty-five years, residents of Berkeley County have been going on vacation without traveling too far from home. And in Jefferson County, it's been sixty years.
The Berkeley County Youth Fair, located at 2419 Golf Course Road, Martinsburg, WV, takes place from August 4 to August 11.
"This is one of the only fairs in the country that is open only to participation by young people ages nine to twenty-one," says Becky Daniel, advertising and publicity chairperson for the Berkeley County Youth Fair Association. "This gives the young people of Berkeley County a place to shine. They work hard all year for this event."
According to Daniels, participants are: 4-H members, Future Farmers of America, Boy and Girl Scouts, and members of Boys and Girls Clubs. They exhibit their animals and sell them at the end of the week. There are many other activities occurring throughout the week too. "There's something going on every night from tractor pulls, to bull riding, to the carnival," says Daniel.
These activities contribute the event's popularity. The event opens with the crowning of 2012 Miss Youth Fair. Daniel estimates the fair attracts about 5,000 people each night.
The Jefferson County Fair at Old Leetown Pike in Kearneysville is held from August 19 to August 25. It provides entertainment for all tastes and all interests, notes Todd Wilt, fair manager for the last ten years. The fair is presented by the Jefferson County Fair Association.
This event has grown dramatically since its inception. The fair started out at the old Charles Town race track at Shenandoah Downs. It originally ran for only three days.
Over time, the fair increased in popularity, necessitating its move. "The race track was a good venue," Wilt explains. "A prominent focal point, but with the fair's growth, we needed more room, so we moved to the eighty-acre site of today in 1975."
"The fair's founding fathers originally wanted to showcase the county's agricultural heritage" says Wilt. "Today's fair has expanded and reflects the composition of our community, the interface of the newness of the urban and the rural heritage, too. We have a wide variety of patrons and a real community feel to our fair." "And we keep growing," says Jefferson County Fair President Bob Gruber. Gruber is in his eighth year as President of the fair, and he is an enthusiastic supporter of the event.
"We have about 1,000 to 1,500 volunteers, vendors and others working at the fair, and numerous exhibits that showcase everything from sewing to artwork to flowers to animals. We're always excited about the fair."
There is a plethora of contests taking place during the week of the fair. These include lawn mower racing, tractor driving, and water balloon tossing. There are also contests for bubble gum blowing, apple eating, egg tossing, watermelon eating, ice cream eating, and milk drinking.
Gruber says one popular attraction is the mud bog. "Four-wheel vehicles try to get through a muddy bog. Some do make it, but some have to be towed out," he says.
Despite the variety of existing activities, the organizers are always interested in adding new events. "Two years ago, we started a pudding eating contest and a marshmallow eating contest. And, to keep up with new things happening in technology, we have added a texting contest," says Wilt.
Wilt says all facets of the community are represented at exhibits from homemakers 'crafts and baked goods to a carnival and a senior citizens' barbeque. Of course, the agricultural sector is ever present with horse shows and livestock judging, including entries from 4-H groups and the Future Farmers of America. Sheep, goats, and rabbits will all be on display.
"There is so much to see at the fair for a nominal admission of only $5. You pay more than that to go to a movie. Plus, people come to the fair to socialize. They look forward to it," Gruber adds.
Another advantage of the fair is the fact that different types of entertainment are going on simultaneously. "If you don't care about tractor pulls, you can go and hear a bluegrass jam session. There's something going on all the time," says Gruber.
Of course, the Fair also gives girls and young women a chance to shine through its Little Miss Jefferson County Fair, Junior Miss Jefferson County Fair and a Miss Jefferson County Fair events.
Although the fair started out with an emphasis on agriculture, both men admit that agriculture has taken a hit in the county because of the bumper crop of housing developments that have sprung up over the years. However, devotion to the county's agricultural heritage is strong. The result is that fair attendance has been growing steadily every year.
"Even though we're facing tough economic times, the last five years have been really great for the fair. We average about 40,000 people in attendance, and last year we made more than $100,000," Wilt says. "The fair is a great showcase for the agricultural community of Jefferson County, says Jefferson County Commissioner Dale Manuel. "It's a great opportunity to spotlight the county's animals and produce.
Children in 4-H can display the hard work they've accomplished over the year. And they get to sell their animals on the last day of the fair." "It's also a great gathering for the whole community," Manuel adds. "People who rarely attend other community events go to the fair. Sometimes every night. They have a good time."
A longtime resident of the county, Manuel says he has seen some changes in the Fair. "I remember there was an event called the calf scramble," says Manuel. "If you caught the calf, you got to keep it. It also involved dragging the calf over a fence. I think liability issues ended the event. I do remember wrestling with a calf, and it took me down. I lost my shoe and my dignity. A friend who was with me did succeed in catching the calf. He got to keep it."
Manuel agrees with Wilt and Gruber that the county is going away from agriculture but says the county is taking action to preserve its green space. He says the popularity of the fair with people in the surrounding quad-state area shows that agriculture does still have a lot of support. "I think one of the unique things about the fair is the variety of different individuals who attend it. It's not just people involved with agriculture, but doctors, laborers, the whole cross section of society," Manuel says.
He notes that the vast variety of exhibits is a real draw. "You see exhibits from political parties, Homeland Security," notes Manuel. "You can show your support for the fire company by buying food they've prepared, like Italian sausage with the works."
"There's nothing like walking down the midway with a pretzel or snow cone, stopping off to see a tractor pull," says Manuel. "They've got just about everything out there from A to Z. It gives the average citizen a chance to show off their pickles or cherry pie. You can get as involved as you want. Talk to people you haven't seen for a while. It's a fun week."
The money generated goes back into improving the fairgrounds. We have buildings out here that are more than thirty-five years old. They need maintenance," says Wilt.
The Jefferson County Fairgrounds and its facilities are also rented out from April to October for all kinds of community activities. This includes: • The pavilion, with its electricity and tables, which has been used for family reunions and company picnics; • The grassy areas are available for volleyball and other games; the larger buildings on site have held summer weddings; • Auctions and horse shows have taken place at the arena and horse barns. There are two horse barns and forty stalls.
Gruber says the fairgrounds have been part of a rental program for about fifteen years. "This program pays for the fairgrounds' utilities. It's also a great way to help out the community at the same time," he adds.
For more information, on the Berkeley County Youth Fair, visit www.berkeleycountyyouthfair. org or call (304) 263-5869. For details on the Jefferson County Fair, go to the website at www. jeffersoncountyfairwv.org or call 724-1411. The email address is jeffersoncountyfair@frontiernet. net. Above all, be sure to mark your calendars to share in the fun at these two worthwhile local events.