Fair attendance believed to have been highest since Garth Brooks performed in 1990

Martin Garza clears trash from underneath the grandstands at the Adams County Fairgrounds in Mendon on Wednesday morning. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: Jul. 31, 2014 10:15 am Updated: Aug. 14, 2014 11:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

MENDON, Ill. -- It was a very good year for the Adams County Fair.

A combination of cooler-than-usual July weather, coupled with popular attractions and continued physical improvements to the fairgrounds, pushed the estimated fair attendance past 50,000 people. Veteran directors said that figure is believed to be the highest since 1990, when budding country music superstar Garth Brooks -- who was 27 at the time -- performed at the fairgrounds.

No exact attendance figures are kept, explained Leon Obert, a fair director who has been associated with the event for more than a decade. The attendance estimates provided are based on receipts rather than head counts.

Obert and fellow director Bernie Woodworth estimated that this year's attendance was "25 to 30 percent" above 2013.

Obert, whose day job is manager of the Farm and Home Supply store in Quincy, said a concerted effort has been made in recent years to boost the number of fairgoers.

"We've been trying to (entice) more of the urban crowd, to get more people from Quincy," he said. "We're trying to get more people to realize what a great thing they have in their own backyard. We're also making every effort to determine what it is people want (to see)."

Obert said the addition of a contemporary Christian music act to the fair schedule is an example of that thinking. It has blossomed into one of the annual "major" events at the fair, along with such attractions as the tractor pull, bull riding, a country music act, the demolition derby and the fair queen pageant.

"There is a lot of (entertainment) competition," Obert said. "People have so many options. We have to compete with that."

The tractor pull was this year's biggest individual draw. Obert estimated 10,000 people attended the fair on Monday.

Fair Board member Melissa Shriver said people were still talking about the tractor pull crowd late this week.

"Traffic to get into the fair was backed up a half-mile in every direction on (Ill. 336)," Shriver said.

Lower temperatures were a definite factor in more people going to the fair, Obert said. July temperatures in Adams County have averaged about 71 degrees this year, five degrees cooler than the norm. The humidity also has been lower than usual, making the fair experience even more comfortable.

More benches were added at the fairgrounds this year for people to rest. Several other cosmetic changes to enhance the overall appearance of the property also were well-received, Obert said.

The fair has been undergoing a gradual transformation over the pact decade or so. Obert said it's a sign of the times.

"You have to try and diversify -- without giving up on tradition," he said. "We'll never get away from our ag base. That's who we are, but the fact is there is a (shrinking rural population)."

Obert said those associated with the fair are always planning ahead. He said everyone has 2016 circled on their calendars for the 75th Adams County Fair.