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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO Shannon Brown of Maysville (right) drills as Tonya Farrister, Kelli McGarrah, 10, Kinzie McGarrah, 7 and Laney Brown, 13, from the Maysville 4-H Club (from left) watch, Saturday, August 4, 2018 at the Benton County Fairgrounds in Bentonville. Vendors prepared their booths ahead of the Benton County Fair which is set to begin August 7.

BENTONVILLE -- Benton County Fair organizers hope free admission this year continues to increase attendance. Admission was free for the first time last year.

"Last year, over 30,000 people came through the gates. The year before it was about 17,000, and, in the years before that, it was around 13,000 or 14,000. So it was a tremendous success," said Fair Board President Ashley Hays.

Fair events

A schedule of events and attractions at the Benton County Fair, along with information on parking, tickets and guest services, can be found on the fair website at bentoncountyfairar.org.

Source: Staff report

The fair is set to open at 1 p.m. Tuesday and run through Saturday at the fairgrounds, 7640 S.W. Regional Airport Blvd.

Hays said the free admission along with some of the best weather organizers have seen in recent years and a range of new events all combined to drive up attendance last year.

He said the fair has added sponsors, who are helping to continue the free admission policy.

Susan Koehler, fair manager, said the fair is working to provide something for everyone.

"We will have Wi-Fi on the property and in some of the key buildings," she said. "It helps us with administering the fair and with judging using iPads. It will help our vendors with payments. And people will be able to connect when they're at the fair."

Koehler said, while the fair continues to have traditional events, new additions have proved popular. She said goat yoga will return after being fully booked in 2017. The fair is adding contests in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics category, with entries in aerospace engineering, robotics, computer art and animation, digital creations, cardboard engineering, renewable energy and Lego building. The entrants will be judged in age groups.

Another new event is the "Tossed Art" sculpture contest, which is open to youth and adults. During the event, contestants turn litter into art. Koehler said the event is meant to increase awareness of the impact of litter on the environment through art.

Koehler said more shuttles are planned between the parking lots and the fairgrounds.

Johnny Gunsaulis, the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service agent for Benton County, said the fair continues to be important for the farm community.

"The county fair is a big agri showcase in the county," especially on the youth level, he said. He praised youth groups such as 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America clubs for the experiences they provide young people.

"And it's not just classroom training; it's hands-on," Gunsaulis said. "The fair is always a family event, but it's not something the kids are told to go out and do. They do it because they want to."

Gunsaulis said, while the farming and agriculture business is changing nationwide, with fewer full-time family farm operations, the work experience gained by the participants is something they can use in any walk of life.

"They will all come out of it with a great appreciation of the food preparation industry and with a great work ethic," he said. "That kind of thing they can put to use in any kind of work they do."

Clint Bowen, a captain with the Rogers Fire Department, echoed Gunsaulis' comments about the value of the county fair and the experiences he and others gain from it.

Bowen said he showed registered Angus cattle when he was a teen and his twin sons -- Brandt and Mack -- are doing the same. Bowen said his family background is in farming, but he hasn't been able to make it a full-time profession, describing his work as "a gentleman farmer."

Whether his sons work in agriculture, he said he thinks they will hold onto those ties.

"My father row-cropped when I was growing up," he said. "I'm a captain and have been with the Rogers Fire Department for 20 years. It's a little early to tell what my boys will do. They still want to be professional athletes. But I do believe agri is always going to be a part of their lives if they stay in this area."

General News on 08/08/2018

Print Headline: Benton County Fair officials hope to build on success

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