County fair goes on with less from state

WOODSTOCK – Admission to the McHenry County Fair and the price to see tractor pulls and other Grandstand entertainment don’t reflect the magnitude of state budget cuts to the fair, officials say.

The annual fair kicks off today for the 64th time, with typical festivities and events, such as tractor pulls, the demolition derby and livestock exhibits.

Daily admission to the five-day fair is $7 for adults. Children younger than 7 get in for free; those 8 to 12 years and seniors older than 65 pay $3. Tickets to Grandstand entertainment range from $5 to $7.

Organizers, led by the fair’s board of directors, have seen state money taper off as Illinois’ multibillion-dollar debt continues to grow. State funds traditionally help cover renovations and maintenance of the fairgrounds, along with the prize money paid to exhibitors.

“We are not waiting for the state to solve our problems and keep us viable, but we are appreciative for any money we receive,” said Dick Crone, the fair board president.

“We still believe we have a quality fair. It’s a time for people to come together and celebrate a part of the history and heritage of our county.”

The McHenry County Fair is one of 12 that receives more state backing than others because the demand is greater than in less-populated, more rural downstate counties.

The fair in Woodstock received $46,612 in 2011 from the state. But that’s $23,620 less than what it received from the state in 2010, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Crone said when he become president nine years ago, state appropriations made up 50 percent of the fairgrounds’ budget, which has dropped to 20 percent.

County fairs across the state have felt state budget cuts, said Charlyn Fargo, the state agriculture department’s bureau chief of county fairs and horse racing. But fairs have adapted by seeking more private sponsorships and other ways to minimize the effect of the state’s declining role.

In McHenry County, the effect on admission and Grandstand tickets has been minimal, Crone said. The fair offers affordable admission prices and incentives, such as free parking, he said.

The fair has maintained its affordability by increasing sponsorships and relying more on volunteers, Crone said. The community also has stepped up by taking on some fairgrounds maintenance, he said, citing the recent renovation of the swine barn.

“The bottom line is, state money or not, without the volunteers every year at the fair, there wouldn’t be a fair,” Crone said.

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