Chautauqua County Fair – The Best Gets Better at America’s Family Fair!

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Photo from ChautauquaCountyFair.org

“Every year we play ‘Can you top this?’” Roy “Mooney” Harrington said with great delight. Harrington is the First Vice-President of the 2012 Chautauqua County Fair in Dunkirk, New York. “I love the hustle and bustle of everybody working to make this fair better every year,” he added. “It takes a team with a real, good old fashioned work ethic to run it for the whole week. For some of us, it’s just about 24 hours a day, and that’s what I love.”

The 2012 Chautauqua County Fair is slated to begin on Monday, July 23 and run through Sunday, July 29. The Main gates at 1089 Central Avenue in Dunkirk will swing open at 9 am and the Midway Rides will all start up at 1 pm. A complete 7-day schedule of events, ticket sales information and more are available at http://www.chautauquacountyfair.org/.

The Chautauqua County Fair has been one of the most popular family events in Western New York for 131 years. According to USA Today Travel this will also be the 201st anniversary of the first agricultural county fair ever organized in the United States. It opened in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in the year 1811, when the nation itself was only 35 years old.

The fair has always been about games, food and livestock. “If you took a group of people from the first fair in 1811 they would recognize most everything going on today,” say historians Drake Hokanson and Carol Kratz, authors of Purebred and Homegrown: America’s County Fairs(University of Wisconsin Press). Last year, USA Today listed the Chautauqua County Fair in Dunkirk as one of the top 10 county fairs out of the nearly 290 state and county fairs across the United States every year.

“We add great, new features every year to keep it fresh,” said Mike Ferguson, County Fair board member. “Take the Paul Bunyan Lumber Jack Show, for instance. It’s action-packed. It has log rolling, axe throwing, hand sawing, chopping, chain sawing, tree climbing and much more, and it’s all done by world champion Lumberjacks.”

For fair goers who love speed, roaring trucks, flying mud and high horsepower competition, Western New York Off Road Racing on Friday evening, at the Budweiser Grandstand, is the place to be. “There’s even more to that than meets the eye,” ‘Mr. Mooney’ said with obvious pride. “Right after the last event on Thursday night we have to start moving earth to build the entire off road race track for Friday night, then rebuild it all over again for the Tractor Pull on Saturday night.” Roy “Mooney” Harrington was in the excavating business for many years and, one day, visited the fair “just to help out.” Today, more than 20 ears later, in addition to moving mountains, Money makes sure the water, the sewers and all the other necessities simply keep working, all the time.

4-H events have always been at the heart of the County Fair. Chautauqua County ranks 1st in New York State for number of farms, 5th in total farming acreage, and also boasts nearly 20,000 acres of grape vineyards and award wining wines. Young people who learn the practical aspects, the science and the economics of agriculture will be the next generation’s leaders in Chautauqua County.

“I’d just like to invite anyone at the fair to talk to a young person at a 4-H event,” said Emily Kidd, the Chautauqua County 4-H leader, and an employee of Cornell Cooperative Extension. “You’ll be amazed at their knowledge, their poise, their life skills,” she promised. “Then, ask their age…you’ll be even more amazed.”

The 4-H program in the United States was founded in Clark County, Ohio, in 1902. Today, 4-H clubs have 6.5 million members, ages 9 to 19, in every state and county in the US, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, other territories and possessions and in U.S. Army and Air Force installations worldwide. In the U.S. alone, 4-H has 3,500 staff, 538,000 volunteers and 60 million alumni. 4-H is also active in more than 80 other countries around the world.

The Chautauqua County program currently serves nearly 500 members in 26 clubs. Meetings are run by the members under Robert’s Rules of Order and members learn leadership skills and orderly ways of conducting business. The also have a lot of fun and learn social skills. “We not only have third and fourth generation 4-Hers,” Kidd said, “we also have husbands and wives who met and fell in love in 4-H.”

“The clubs meet once a month,” Kidd explained, “but the animals need care every day. The program teaches young people a sense of responsibly; not only how to keep an animal fed but how to raise a prize winning specimen suitable for commercial farming. The meat animal auction and competition are a highpoint of the fair. It shows the youngster the rewards of a job done right.” The 4-H motto is “To make the best better,” its slogan is “Learn by doing.”

At the Chautauqua County Fair this year 4-H members will display more than 800 animals, including beef cattle, cows, horses, sheep, pigs, goats, rabbits and poultry. Of the seven animal barns on the fair grounds, five are reserved for 4-H animals. These include a Goat Barn Arena, which will highlight displays and competition in Dairy Goat Milking, a Harness & Pack Goat Show, a Dairy Goat and Meat Goat Show and more.

The Rabbit and Poultry Barn will host Rabbit Showmanship competition. The Horse Show Arena will present both English and Western riding and Showmanship, 4-H Gymkana Showmanship and the 4-H County Fair Fun Horse Show, Dressage, Drill Team & Parade Team shows and competition. The Horse Show Arena will also host a 4-H Dog Agility & Rally Obedience Show. Other events will highlight similar demonstrations and competitions of the other livestock on display.

In addition to the animals, there will be 1,700 displays of 4-H crafts and projects representing many other 4-H programs, including very active programs for urban and suburban youth in dog care and showmanship, automotive projects and many others.

According to the Cornell Cooperative Extension website, “ For almost a century, Cornell Cooperative Extension has worked in partnership with Chautauqua County government and Cornell University to address priority needs in agriculture, environment and energy, youth development, family services, and watershed stewardship.” Both the Chautauqua County 4-H clubs and the Chautauqua County Fair reflect the best of that cooperation.

New York State Association of Agricultural Fairs, Inc. is offering a $1,000 Scholarship and the Chautauqua County Agricultural & Fair Association will award a $500 scholarship to youth for specific accomplishments in various categories.

“The Chautauqua County Fair is a showcase of all the best that our county has to offer,” Mike Ferguson said. “It takes hundreds of volunteers and paid workers and an army of vendors and amazing acts and performers to make it all happen.” Ferguson simply added an invitation to all Chautauqua County residents and any visitors from elsewhere in Western New York and Northern Pennsylvania.: “The Chautauqua County Fair…Get There!”

For more information, Jamestown Gazette readers may call 716-366-4752, log n to the official County Fair website, http://www.chautauquacountyfair.org, E-mail cofair@netsync.net or Write or Visit at Chautauqua County Fairgrounds, 1089 Central Ave., PO Box 191, Dunkirk, NY 14048-0191. 4-H information is available by calling (716) 664-9502, Ext. 212.