RICKREALL — “Moo at the Moon.” That is the theme for the 2017 Polk County Fair, in honor of the Great American total solar eclipse the region will experience on Aug. 21, after the fair’s run.
Fair managers are hoping for a year more like 2015 — and not a repeat of last year — for the fair, Aug. 10-12.
“It was the perfect storm in 2015 and the perfect storm in 2016,” said Fair Board Chairwoman Anna Scharf at the board’s annual work session on Saturday.
Those storms came with opposite results. In 2015, the fair was shortened to three days and other changes were put in play. Those ideas were well-received; the weather was beautiful; and attendance and revenue were up. Last year wasn’t as cooperative, as Mother Nature decided to scorch the fair with temperatures nearing 100 degrees.
That likely was the main driver behind an attendance plunge of more than 27 percent and admissions dropping 33 percent, Scharf said. Those declines made another change — charging for parking — the annual event’s savior from disaster.
“If we hadn’t charged for parking, we would have been in real pickle,” Scharf said. “Because we charged for parking, we were really only down about 5 percent in our overall revenue for gate admission.”
Open class exhibits were down, but that could have been a product of a late harvest season that had farmers still working their fields during fair, Scharf said.
In a bit of good news, she added that sponsorships were up 17 percent, which is an indication the fair has strong community support. Thursday night’s Roughstock Rodeo also proved to be a big draw.
Scharf said the board is working on more changes to bring attendance and revenue up, including working with the cities to avoid conflicts during fair week and finding a better place to put the entertainment stage.
“We keep moving pieces to try to get the right fit to get revenue up,” Scharf said.
Scheduling youth exhibits — which have been increasing — has been a challenge since moving to a three-day fair. Scharf said a schedule with shows on Wednesday before the fair opens will be tested to prevent young exhibitors from having to rush from one event to another.
“It was really chaotic for those kids, and it was really hard for them to enjoy fair,” Scharf said.