At least for this year, there is a very simple explanation for the drop in attendance at the Scioto County Fair. It can be summed up in one word:
On Monday, the first day of the 2018 fair, attendance was given as 3,108. That number was down 38 people from opening day 2017.
On Tuesday, when the rains hit hard in the evening, attendance at the fair predictably plummeted, dropping to a total of 2,021, down 2,693 from last year. A demolition derby slated for the grandstand that evening was postponed to today.
Along with more raindrops, attendance numbers fell again on Wednesday, though not as badly, to a total of 2,985, a difference of 1,116 from 2017.
“You can’t do much about Mother Nature,” said Larry McChesney, president of the Scioto County Fair Board.
If the fair board can’t fight the elements, they also are not having much luck fighting declines in population, declines in the agricultural community and other factors mentioned as possibly explaining dramatic drops in fair attendance over at least the last 10 years.
The fair board office supplied attendance figures going back to 1998. Opening day that year drew just over 6,200 people. Over 6 days, the fair attracted a total of 58,247 folks. With a few exceptions, total attendance has dropped every year since.
In 2017, total attendance was 29,840. It was one of those rare years in which the attendance actually increased from the previous year, jumping just over 3,000 from the 2016 total. However, the 2017 number still represents a deficit of 13,218 from the 20-year average attendance of 43,058.
Through Wednesday, the last day for which current attendance figures were available prior to the deadline for this issue, attendance was running over 36,000 persons shy of the 20-year average. Of course, the 2018 fair still had three days remaining at that point.
“In my opinion, the economy is one factor,” McChesney said. He also talked about fewer numbers of farms and dairies in the area, meaning there is less of a built-in audience for the largely agriculturally-themed fair.
Still, even as McChesney talked about big changes to the rural nature of the area, other officials were quick to point out Scioto County is home to a thriving 4-H program.
Josi Brot-Evans is a 4-H educator working for the local Ohio State University Extension Office. Actually, she is one of two 4-H educators in Scioto County. She said there are 65 local 4-H clubs with roughly 1,100 members. Those clubs provided some 300 volunteers for the fair this year.
Even prior to the fair, as he spoke about preparations for the week-long event, Robert Seaman, a past president of the fair board and current board secretary and treasurer, talked about the state of the county 4-H program.
“We’re large supporters of 4-H,” he said. “We have a very strong 4-H program.”
Seaman added 4-H isn’t just agriculture but includes arts and photography among many other programs. He bragged this year’s fair would feature the usual 4-H animal displays with critters ranging from Guinea pigs to cattle and everything in between.
“You’ve got some really good kids in 4-H, some of the best you’ve ever met,” Seaman concluded.
In terms of fair attendance, Seaman noted Saturday is traditionally the most well attended day.
“We certainly encourage folks to come out and try things… It’s always a great family atmosphere,” Seaman said. “The fairgrounds will be in great shape and ready to go.”
That last statement was backed up by McChesney, as well as Darren Gahm, one of the fair’s concession managers. Both proudly insisted despite the rains the fairgrounds are in mint condition and will remain so throughout the run of the event.