BENTONVILLE -- The Benton County Fair will be different this year.
There's a new date and midway operator, and crowds will be allowed into the fairgrounds after being kept away in 2020 because of covid-19 restrictions.
The 117th annual fair runs Tuesday through Saturday.
"People said if we were going to change things this would be the year to do it," Fair Board President Ashley Hays said. "We're into full bore, and we hope to drag everyone in the county out to see it."
The fair had been held each September until 2010, when it was pushed up to August. This year, it's back to a September start date. Officials said they will try to keep it in September going forward.
Carnival provider Miller Spectacular Shows is based in Greenbrier, said Susan Koehler, fair and events manager. The Miller midway has operated in more than 18 states and the Bahamas, according to its website.
Miller Spectacular Shows will provide a carnival and games and rides for children up to older thrill-seekers, Koehler said.
The fair drew about 27,000 visitors in 2019, the last year it was fully open.
Fair season is in full swing across the area. The Arkansas-Oklahoma State Fair in Fort Smith started Friday and runs through Saturday. The Arkansas State Fair in Little Rock begins Oct. 15.
The Washington County Fair was held Aug. 24-28 in Fayetteville, and Fair Board President Kendall Pendergraft said the event went well. The number of exhibits grew compared to last year, but not to 2019 levels. The junior livestock auction raised a record of more than $250,000 with the total not finalized, he said.
People were asked to wear masks in the indoor areas and most obliged, he said.
"We were tickled that we were able to have a successful fair," he said. "It felt like a fair. Last year didn't feel like a fair, but this year was closer to normal."
Now it's Benton County's turn.
The Exhibit Hall will host more than 335 exhibitors in youth/4-H, adult home arts, photography and fine arts, among other categories.
Horticulture and floral exhibitors have until today to get their entries registered online, said Janice Shofner, Benton County Extension agent for 4-H youth development.
The youth division has over 1,300 entries, double the amount from last year and about even with 2019, Shofner said.
There are 122 entrants in the junior livestock auction and 172 livestock exhibitors, said Jackie Griffin, fair ShoWorks manager.
Some new events include a homesteading expo in the auditorium, a mountain bike stunt performer, an archery contest and increased cash prizes for horticulture entries, including largest pumpkin, Koehler said.
Handwashing stations will be set up at the fairgrounds along with covid-19 precaution signs, Hays said. Many of the activities will be held outdoors or in large buildings.
A tent will be set up outside at the homesteading exhibition that will showcase speakers and provide some open air, Koehler said.
"The world has gotten used to this new bubble or new system," Hays said of dealing with covid-19 precautions. Most of the exhibitors are school-aged children who have grown used to dealing with covid-19 safeguards, he said.
Covid-19 forced several changes to last year's fair. Attendance was limited to exhibitors and immediate family. Face coverings were required. There was no food, music nor carnival. Livestock were checked in and released daily. The Junior Livestock Premium Auction was streamed online.
The auction this year will be held in-person with a virtual option, Hays said.
Another missing aspect last year was the people who usually come to the fair, Hays said. The exhibitors were recognized in 2020, but it wasn't the same as getting that notoriety from people outside the fair community, he said.
"The kids get to brag about the animals and all the prep time and work it took," he said.
Koehler previously said the Fair Board is confident competitors will have time to get their exhibits to the Arkansas State Fair in Little Rock on time.s
Benton County Fair
When: Tuesday through Saturday
Where: Benton County Fairgrounds, 7640 S.W. Regional Airport Blvd., Bentonville
Cost: Admission is free during non-carnival hours. Cost will be $10 per person from 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and $15 from 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and 2 to 11 p.m. Saturday.
More information: Visit www.bentoncountyfairar.org
Source: Susan Koehler, fair manager