Franklin County Fair happening early this year

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot

It’s fair time! This year the agricultural highlight of the summer is six weeks earlier than the traditional timeframe.

The Franklin County Fair will run July 7-13 at the Chambersburg Rod & Gun Club, 3725 Warm Spring Road, Chambersburg. For many years held the third full week of August, for 2013 it was moved to the first full week of July following July 4. Conflicts with other popular area events made the change necessary to ensure good attendance.

“There is so much going on in August,” said Franklin County Fair Commission president Robert Eckstine. “We had to do something.”

The board checked schedules of county community events, peppered throughout the summer, and schools, many of which held band and football camps or teacher inservice days during fair week. Early July looked the most promising. Then it was a matter of coordinating with vendors. Aware of just a few snags, the board voted last November to make the switch. With representatives from all the fair divisions, they were unanimous.

“Everyone said ‘Yes, we can make it work,’” said Eckstine.

They were impressed with the response from vendors, who were immediately onboard. The number of exhibitors in the main Warner building has nearly doubled.

While the past provider of carnival rides was not available, Reithoffer Shows was. They were booked. The tractor pull was also on the line, but the fair board traded dates with Mont Alto, which usually had a pull in July.

Of course, the earlier time meant produce from the gardens would not be the same. The watermelon, pumpkin and field corn crop won’t be ready, nor many peaches and apples, but a few berry bounties get a chance to shine. It’s part of the trade-off.

So far, positives outweigh any negatives with the decision. Eckstine said sponsorship was also up. And vendors were still calling in during the final days before the fair opened. Many wanted to participate in Saturday’s Flea Market Craft Show. He hoped the public would be as receptive and turn out in great numbers to enjoy the exhibits, sales, food, programs and activities all week.

Another good piece of news reached the board. The Pennsylvania state fair fund was expected to increase its reimbursement for premiums for exhibit winners. The contribution had dropped from a high of $23,000 four years ago, to just $6,500 recently. With income from slots and harness racing growing, the state indicated it could help out again with prize money at the local level.

Gate fees

The fair board uses the admission policy that best works for the site, Eckstine said, though some people wish the fair was free. While that is the case elsewhere, he saw Franklin County’s fair as a bargain when comparisons are made.

On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, the gate fee is $10 per car load or $5 per person, with free parking. On Friday it is $10 per person, and $3 for children ages 6-12. Admission charges start after 1:30 p.m. each day, to encourage people to come early to enjoy lunch at the food stands and visit the outside exhibits. The fair hours at 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with exhibits open to the public 5 p.m. until closing.

“We’ve always struggled with admission,” said Eckstine. “But we think we are in the ballpark. We operate on rented land. We have just one week to generate money to cover our expenses for the whole year.”

He doubted many people knew the cost to host a fair. The association owns most of the buildings on the gun club site, and therefore pays the real estate taxes, insurance and maintenance for them.

Other venues that admitted people free then charged for events. The Franklin County Fair handled it differently, with all entertainment covered by the entrance fee, Eckstine continued. The rides were cheaper than at many carnivals, only $12 for a wrist band to ride all night. Thursday will be different, with rides just $1 each. And after the Barnyard Olympics on Saturday, all kiddie rides are free from 2 - 4 p.m.

“It doesn’t get any better than that. Who else offers these?”

For the kids

Eckstine has been involved with the fair board for 20 years, chairman for the last 13. He and his peers volunteer because of the children who participate in the fair, entering exhibits from heifers to rabbits, vegetables to needlecraft, fine arts to honey.

“To see their faces when they win a ribbon, it is priceless. If not for the youth in the community, we’d walk away in a heartbeat.”

He estimated 200 youngsters were involved in the fair, many from 4-H clubs. They enjoyed spending the week in the barns and joining in on special activities.

The fair board utilizes the mission “to provide the opportunity for competition, fun, education and the promotion of agriculture.”

Officers are Eckstine, Carl Hartman, Rhodena Eckstine and Bonnie Mellott. They are assisted by members Beth Stoner, Karen Hack, Grace Bender, Jamie Hartman, Darrell Veilleux, Jerry Seylar, Jean Brake, Edgar Reichard, Duane Hawbaker, Debbie Stahl, J. Ronald Stambaugh, Shaina Ferguson, Gertie Reichard, Bryce Pugh, Debbie Pugh, Jeffrey Bumbaugh, Kathy Bumbaugh, Roy Cordell, Rhonda Stoner, Curtis Reichard, Carl Stuff, Jan Horst, Shirley Lanman, James Seylar and Ivan Hissong.

A serious evaluation of the new date will take place in a few years, with everyone optimistic it will be successful. Eckstine said, “We can’t go back.”