by Lisa Tome
Reading in exchange for free admission to the Cecil County Fair paid off for all involved.
In the first year in which children who participated in the Cecil County Public Library Summer Reading Program received free admission to the fair in exchange for turning in reading logs, 572 kids turned in those free admission passes.
You can teach an old fair new tricks.
According to Al Miller, president of the non-profit Cecil County Fair Board, the fair, which is the State of Maryland's longest fair, running nine days - this year from July 18-26, was a big success in 2014.
"We had near perfect weather this year. We had heat on Tuesday and a storm on Wednesday that hurt us, but didn't kill us. And the day crowds were good," said Miller. The estimate is that about 80,000 people attended Fair 2014, many of them repeat customers. "It was a long nine days. But we're doing it for the kids to have fun," said Miller.
The fair board has struck up a 25-year agreement for the use of the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area. Beginning in 2015, a new deal goes into effect. An account has been set up where specific dollar amounts are paid. That account will fund electricity and maintenance at the fair grounds, water, and more camper space. "If we had more electricity we could grow the fair," said Miller.
Booth space was hard to come by at the fair. "During election years the booths go early. We sold out before the fair started," said Miller.
Miller outlined just some of the causes which fair money helps to fund. Union Hospital received more than $11,000.
"The more we give back to the community, the better it works," said Miller.
Most everyone who works the fair is a volunteer. The only people who are paid are the secretary, treasurer, and fair book keeper. They each earn $200.
"It's not hundreds of volunteers, it's thousands," he said. Another new twist to the fair this year was the selection of a Fair Family of the Day. This was widely publicized on social media. The Junior Fair Board selected one family each day. The winners got free food, free rides, and free reserved seating at special events such as the demo derby.
While a few people got in free, the fair admission of $5 for adults and $3 for seniors and children adds up.
The fair proceeds come from the gate and from the percentage paid to the board by the midway operator Deggeller's Attractions of Florida. "They do very well for us," said Miller.
The county pays for police protection. The fair board pays fire police for traffic and parking control.
The fair's entertainment budget for the demo derby, truck pulls, circus, wood carver, dog show, gospel night and more is about $110,000 annually. Advertising costs about $125,000. Supplies cost about $12,000. "What we're trying to do is make enough to open up again (the next year). We spent $125,000 fives years ago on buildings," said Miller.
"The demo derby has been here since the 1980s and it pays for itself. The demo derby helped us grow," he said.
He said that while people turn out for the entertainment, rides, and food, the focal point of the fair continues to be the 4-H children and their exhibits, livestock, and displays.
The 2015 Cecil County Fair will be held from July 24-August 1.