WOODSTOCK – Twenty years ago, a sale of county-owned land shrunk the fairgrounds and posed a since-unanswered question.
Where – in 10 or 20 or 30 years, as the county continued to grow – would the fair be held?
Now, as the McHenry County Fair kicks off, a year after a new beef barn was unveiled at the site, organizers said they’ve made a decision to recommit to the space off Country Club Road near Route 47.
“The board this past spring made a movement that we are committed to this location,” said Tom Linneman, treasurer of the McHenry County Fair Association. “Financially, it’s very hard to pick up the infrastructure, the buildings. So we’re committed to continue to improve this location and make it the best we possibly can.”
Gates open at 7 a.m. each morning and close at 10 p.m. each night, Wednesday through Sunday. As always, those who attend have several options for entertainment, from carnival rides and games to vendors and 4-H shows. And demolition derbies and tractor pulls and pageants. And lots and lots of food.
Linneman hopes for a large turnout. Particularly, he wants to see fairgoers who haven’t been out for a few years. He said improvements both minor and major have impacted the experience.
“We’ve done a lot of work throughout the years trying to find different ways [to control] flow of traffic, flow of people,” he said. “Trying to make sure our guests and vendors and everyone is very happy when they come.”
Capital improvement money this year went to a new water system at the fairgrounds and to replacing fencing and gates around the sheep barn – further commitments, Linneman said, toward staying at the current location.
Organizers started chatting about a move about 20 years ago when the McHenry County Division of Transportation sold its land to a developer – who brought in Jewel-Osco at Route 47 and Country Club Road. Before the move, the fair association leased 15 acres from the county – land that accommodated the fairgrounds’ large grandstand, said Kurt Begalka, administrator of the McHenry County Historical Society.
The fair association tossed around several potential locations through the years, but never agreed on a change.
“In retrospect, they had a lot of opportunities to make the move, but it became more and more difficult for them,” Begalka said.
Regardless, families once again are set to spend this weekend huddled in lawn chairs and packed onto bleachers. Among them will be the Harps. Trever, 9, and Trent, 13, are showing animals.
Their mother, Michele Harp, said the two take pride in their projects.
“We camp out there on the grounds all week long,” she said. “We look forward to it every year.”