By Conrad Dudderar
EL RENO – Record attendance estimated at more than 20,000 people came to last week’s 67th Annual Canadian County Free Fair.
The fair was presented Aug. 23-28 at the new Canadian County Expo & Event Center, 3001 Jensen Road East.
“It was a tremendous success,” Canadian County Fair Board Chairman Kelly Beck said. “This year’s fair was just very exciting and something for us to build on. We look forward to growing it.”
This marked the first year for the annual fair at Canadian County’s new fairgrounds’ venue featuring a 19,000 square foot event center, 46,000 square foot arena, 19,000 square foot open-air pavilion, and outdoor concert park.
Canadian County Fair Board Secretary Brad Tipton said this year’s attendance was double the high-water mark for previous fairs at the former fair site on Country Club Drive.
“It was a half-a-million-dollar economic impact for our one-week Canadian County Free Fair,” Tipton reported.
The fair generated an estimated $500,000 in economic development based on hotel stays, rodeo ticket sales, carnival ticket sales, and concessions.
The carnival – open Wednesday through Saturday – was very busy with attendees enjoying 13,444 rides.
Beck, of Yukon, went out on the midway Saturday night and immediately noticed the long lines.
“It was almost like Six Flags out there,” he said. “It was unreal the amount of people who came to the carnival.
“Because there was more space, the carnival did bring some larger rides they weren’t able to bring before.”
The carnival operator, Great Plains Amusements, told fair officials this year’s Canadian County Fair carnival was among the top 10% of all its events.
Meanwhile, an estimated 1,100 people attended the IPRA (International Professional Rodeo Association) rodeo Friday night presented by the El Reno Wranglers.
Bleachers were full inside the climate-controlled indoor arena.
“We had considerably better contestants this year because it was an IPRA-sanctioned rodeo,” said Marie Hirst of the El Reno Wranglers. “It really was awesome.
“That has been the ‘coolest’ rodeo I have ever worked as far as temperature. I didn’t sweat near as much as I have in the past!”
Hirst, Canadian County’s court clerk, thanked county commissioners and fair officials Nathan Smith and Tipton for their hard work.
“All of the staff out there bent over backwards to assist us and help take care of us,” she said. “There was a lot of compliments. I have no complaints.”
Hirst did hear some constructive criticism about where the chutes were located.
“The rough stock should have come out in the middle of the arena,” she related. “As I explained, that was how it was designed.”
Both Friday night’s rodeo and Saturday’s horse show were “great,” Hirst added.
LOTS OF ACCOLADES
Dan Wedman, the longest-serving Canadian County Fair Board member, was well pleased with the first fair and this new place.
“All we heard was accolades from the thousands of people who were there,” said Wedman, of Calumet. “The citizens of Canadian County deserve the blessing that we’ve received from having this kind of facility for all of Canadian County – and people from afar to come utilize.”
El Reno exhibitor Ed Zweiacher took a photo he titled “The sun sets on the 67th Canadian County Fair.”
“First place in new facilities, first place blue ribbon in new location,” Zweiacher said. “My opinion is the new place won the grand champion ribbon at this year’s fair and will be even better next year.”
Canadian County Commission Chairman Jack Stewart said it was a “very successful first go” at the newly opened fairgrounds’ facility.
“Everybody had smiling faces and you can tell they were so proud that Canadian County has something like that,” said Stewart, the District 3 county commissioner. “When you pulled up, with the number of cars in the parking lot and all the lights, it looked like a small state fair!
“Most of the comments we’ve received were good, although some were critical,” Stewart added. “There’s a lot of ‘little things’ that popped up we need to address for next year.”
District 2 County Commissioner Dave Anderson thought the fair activities went well.
“I love the enthusiasm,” Anderson said. “I do appreciate the constructive criticism and the details that people noticed that we just overlooked.”
District 1 County Commissioner Marc Hader referred to the “constructive comments” – not complaints – from fairgoers about ways to make the fair even better next time.
“Overall, everybody was very happy – very pleased,” Hader said.
Canadian County citizens have offered various suggestions, such as flying a large U.S. flag outside the main entrance, providing a handicapped entrance into the exhibit hall and having more trash cans throughout the carnival area.
“We welcome input on ways we can make it better,” Beck said.
He referred to the “collaborative” effort among past and current fair board members, county commissioners, expo center staff, county extension personnel, and the public.
MORE COUNTY FAIR TID-BITS
Youth livestock competitions also were featured inside the spacious arena –goat and sheep on Monday, swine on Tuesday and beef on Wednesday.
“The public loved the indoor, air-conditioned livestock events,” Beck shared. “Mac DeVilbiss (former longtime Yukon FFA advisor) told me it was the most enjoyable county fair in the last 55 years.
“The show arena was very comfortable, and everything was very visible. It was a very enjoyable show to watch.”
Likewise, Beck noticed increased interest among Canadian County youth entering pies and other baked goods in this year’s fair.
The fair board chair believes the new expo center – which opened in early July – is already proving to be a great benefit for Canadian County.
“This facility is booked pretty full,” Beck said. “It’s such a great area and very accessible. We’re going to see a real uptick in the economic impact for Canadian County, and it’s going to be year-round.”
Wedman, the fair board’s vice-chairman, said county commissioners and fair board members overcame challenges to build the new fairgrounds’ complex.
“It is my hope and my prayer that every citizen in Canadian County gets to come to this facility at some point, to enjoy it and participate in all it has to offer,” he said.
“We hope to continue growing our county fair, allowing more people to come enjoy it for educational, recreational or any other purpose. We’re also looking forward to completing phases two and three in the months and years ahead.”