By Matt Reese
“It is the same old thing, but this time it is all new.”
Jerry Campbell, president of the Belmont County Fair Board is excited, nervous and scared all at the same time as he leads the effort for yet another Belmont County Fair beginning on Sept. 7. In many ways, it will be the same as past fairs in the county, with junior exhibitors, events, and a community that is always supportive of the event. But this year, it will be the first time at a new location.
The Belmont County Fair long called a 17-acre site in St. Clairsville home, but the location offered no room to grow. This year will be the first fair at the new 162-acre location just outside of East Richland, 5.5 miles west of the previous site.
“That is a huge difference,” Campbell said. “We sold the former fairgrounds four years ago and had the fair there through last year while we worked on the new site. It took a lot of time to get started while we waited on the initial earthwork. Then, in the last year, we’ve really been working hard to get this up and running.”
The new site is obviously much more spacious, but it has taken a huge effort to prepare for the 2010 fair.
“We started out with bare ground. It was re-claimed strip ground. It had no utilities, nothing. We put all new water lines in. All the electric is underground except for the initial line coming in,” Campbell said. “We created a 300-foot by 750-foot midway. We put in a 75-foot by 400-foot pulling track for sanctioned pulls. We’re hoping that this will be big here. We put in permanent demolition derby areas. We put in an eighth-mile motocross track, which has been a huge success for the Fair Board. We will offer a motocross race for the fair.”
The new grounds also address the logistical shortcomings of the previous site.
“The main problem at our old site was that we had no room to grow and no place to park. People would have to park along the streets or in the school lots and there was always difficulty finding places to park,” he said. “At the new grounds we have over 7,000 parking places which is ample room.”
Along with offering new expanded entertainment options, the facilities are also vastly improved.
“We formed a six-person committee to work on nothing but the new buildings. We went to several different locations to look at different types of facilities. We wanted a multi-use building that could be used year round,” Campbell said. “We built pole-type barns. They are gray with green roofs. We tried to stick with the 4-H colors with the green. This year we have 6 barns, a show arena, and our horticulture building ready to go for this year.
“The show arena will hold all of our shows but the hogs and rabbits and poultry. They have a show arena of their own. The hog barn and the poultry barn are two separate buildings with one roofline and the arena in between.”
The building committee had a tough job to do, but strong support from the rest of the Fair Board and the community.
“We never built anything without total board approval and to look at it is really is impressive to see all of the buildings the same,” he said. “All of our buildings have been donated to us by businesses or individuals. We were hoping to have maybe two or three buildings up by now. We never thought we would have six barns, a show arena and horticulture building ready for the fair, but we have a good group of people that follow the fair. One lady donated the money for the Horticulture Building because her husband was on the Fair Board for years. His dream was to see the new fairgrounds. He passed away last fall and she donated the building in memory of him. We have not had trouble getting the support. And once people see what we have out here, we’ll have a lot more support.”
The new buildings bring many new possibilities to Belmont County.
“We have options available now that we’ve never ever had before. We have buildings that we can rent out year round to different groups. The Horticulture Building, by next year, will have a kitchen area and restrooms,” he said. “We have electric and camping facilities for year round use and we will be able to serve in many different functions that we never have before. We will actually have a convention center in the fairground facility that will be the commercial center and junior fair building during the fair. We’re hoping to have for the 2011 fair the junior fair building, a permanent office facility for the Senior Fair Board plus two more buildings.”
Along with the unbelievable financial support, the community has really pulled together to provide other resources for the new fairgrounds.
“The Fair Board members have really gone above and beyond with their effort,” Campbell said. “I have Junior Fair Board kids that come out every weekend and during the week if we need help out there. It has been a very good turnout the last few months. We’ve really been blessed with help on this.”
The 4-H members and volunteers in the county have also really stepped up to help.
“We have been able to a lot with our committees and our youth that have been excited about helping,” said Michelle Fehr, Belmont County 4-H program coordinator. “It has been a great chance for them to do community service projects and help with getting things ready for the new fair. Each of our clubs are decorating and designing flower pots that they can set out around the grounds to help spice things up because it is still a new site and we do not have a lot of landscaping things done yet. The kids have been able to help with that and take ownership of the new grounds.”
Like the Fair Board, the 4-H program is prepared for making adjustments to the old way of doing things in 2010.
“This year will be kind of a learning year for us and next year we will be able to add more new things,” Fehr said. “The hog barn is maybe the biggest change. They went from a dirt floor and having to move the hogs from that barn down to the show arena. The new barn we have is huge and it has concrete floors. It has great new pens and a show arena attached to the barn so the hogs never have to leave the building. I know our market steers numbers are up and I think some of that is due to increased interest in the new fair this year. I think there will be even more of an interest next year.”
The curious community definitely has interest in seeing the new grounds this year and, while the Fair Board is a little nervous about challenges at the new site, there is clearly excitement in the air.
“I anticipate people coming out just to see how far we have progressed,” Campbell said. “I am just thankful to have the people standing behind me that I do. I hope to see a turnout like we never have before.”
The Belmont County Fair finds a new home
By Matt Reese