If the annual Surry County Agricultural Fair seemed more crowded this year, that’s because it was, according to an official of the event.
“I would say we are about double last year,” Fair Manager Michael Thorpe said regarding attendance. As of Saturday afternoon, up to 15,000 people had ventured to the event, not counting numbers for the usual Saturday night throng that climaxes its final day.
Friday night attendance was especially heavy.
“Last night, they had the biggest crowd they’ve had in I don’t know how long,” Rawley King said Saturday while sitting under a tent giving out political posters. “Seven or eight, I’d say.”
King, a military veteran, is familiar with the fair due to leadership roles with Veterans Memorial Park, the facility jointly owned by local VFW and American Legion groups which hosts the event each year.
The 65th-annual fair began on Tuesday.
Thorpe cited several factors for the boost in attendance. An opening date about a month earlier than usual, which reportedly made the local event the first county fair of the season in this region of North Carolina, is considered one of the reasons.
“Being the first fair of the year, it worked out great for us,” Thorpe said. The event traditionally has begun toward the end of September.
Another is the presence of a new act this year, Vicenta’s White Tigers, featuring six Bengal tigers. “They’ve been drawing pretty good crowds each day,” Thorpe said of Vicenta’s two-per-night shows during the fair.
A special six-hour appearance by Bobby Brantley of the “Lizard Lick Towing” television show also helped with attendance. “He brought in some extra people on Thursday,” the fair manager said.
Thorpe additionally believes that with gas prices rising, some local residents have become fed up and rather than travel during the Labor Day weekend chose to stay home and attend local events — including the fair.
Next Year Unclear
The fair official said it is too early to tell if its 2013 version also will have a late-August/early September schedule. That was necessitated this year in order to accommodate the company which provides rides and midway games.
Among the options to be considered are going back to the old date, or maintaining the Labor Day schedule — but extending the fair through Monday of the holiday weekend, according to Thorpe.
One improvement organizers hope to make is having more community involvement, particularly by the farming community, to allow the fair to fully live up to the “agricultural” part of its name, Thorpe said.
This includes schools and groups such as Future Farmers of America and local businesses geared toward agriculture, he said. This year, local Junior ROTC students served various volunteer functions at the fair, and members of the White Plains volunteer fire department assisted with parking.
Thorpe said the fair is community-oriented in nature, due to being non-profit and its proceeds used to support Veterans Memorial Park for the betterment of the public, as well as various services for military veterans.
He said this is something fair-goers can keep in mind when buying tickets or otherwise forking out dollars at the event.
“Even if they think they spent too much, it’s going to worthy causes,” he said.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.