Editorial: A thank you to those who put on the Douglas County Fair

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

Congratulations to all involved in hosting another successful Douglas County Fair.

The festivities at the fairgrounds near 19th and Harper streets concluded on Saturday. The more than weeklong event featured hundreds of 4-H members showing their summer projects, and probably included more than a few hundred collective pounds gained at the daily homemade pie contests and string of food vendors.

That’s OK. They only sell the livestock by the pound at the fair.

A county fair remains a unique way for a community to come together — as long as the community takes the important step of coming. Hopefully even more people will take the time to do so in future years.

The Douglas County Fair is definitely not just fair to middling these days. There are some excellent facilities at the fairgrounds. A large, modern livestock pavilion has replaced a series of old wooden barns that were in much need of repair. A true amphitheater-style stadium — instead of an old set of bleachers — now surrounds an arena where the demolition derby and bull riding competitions take place. (Not at the same time, although that could be fun too.) There’s even a campground on the fairgrounds, and it is full during the fair. Families taking care of hogs, steers, goats, sheep, or sometimes all of the above use the fairgrounds to be close to their animals (and presumably cotton candy, footlong corn dogs, funnel cakes and other such health food.)

Most of the improvements have been funded by the Douglas County government, but the new facilities have sparked some interest in the private sector too. Douglas County Farm Bureau funded a new shelter house at the site. It made its debut this fair season, and was a welcome addition.

Such additions funded by private parties are a good sign that pride is growing at the fairgrounds. Now, the community needs to look for ways to grow the number of events there. The amphitheater/arena could be a good setting for concerts, which seem like a natural for the Lawrence crowd. The county now is allowing a limited beer garden at the fairgrounds during the fair. Allowing responsible use of alcohol at the facilities for other events — like concerts, memorabilia shows and rodeos, for example — is appropriate, and probably necessary to fully take advantage of the fairgrounds’ potential.

And it is important we take full advantage. The county already has done the hard part. It pulled $7.95 million out of its cash reserves to complete the improvements in 2017. It would be great to see more high-profile events take place at the fairgrounds as more people learn of the offerings.

But the last couple of weeks of fair activities have served as a good reminder that we are reaping benefits from the improved facilities. The fair is still important. For one, it is a great reminder of not only our agriculture heritage, but also of the role agriculture still plays in the community today. Never fool yourself; agriculture is the biggest business in Kansas and we would be wise to warm up to it rather than distance ourselves from it.

On a more fundamental level, though, the fair is still a great event for the youth of Douglas County, who sometimes get lost in the shuffle of a community that gears itself much more to 18-to-22-year-old college students. It is fun to watch them ride the rides and walk the midway, but it is even more satisfying to see the many 4-H club members show their projects and take pride in the results.

The fair is capped off by one of the larger but more often forgotten acts of youth charity in the county.

Hundreds of business owners, farmers and others gather at the fairgrounds on a Saturday evening to participate in the 4-H livestock auction. It is not an exaggeration to say that they spend tens of thousands of dollars at the auction, with the proceeds going directly to the 4-H members.

It is a good reminder that more than just the food is fine at the fair. Thank you to all who make it happen.

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