By Peggy Mackenzie
The State Fair of West Virginia wrapped up another year of festivities and exhibits under the new management of CEO Kelly Collins. The 10-day fair ran from Aug. 14 through 23 in Fairlea.
Collins said the fair saw its biggest day ever in the history of the State Fair on Saturday, Aug. 15, with over 30,000 tickets sold. Several changes were made this year, she said, and she and her staff will sort out what worked and what didn’t.
One highlight that worked was the live music under the tent with free acts including Pam Tillis, Clare Dunn, Jimmy Fortune, the Cleverlys and many other musical artists. “Each time we had one of those concerts, it packed a crowd,” she said. “That’s something that we want to continue, is to have more free entertainment.”
She went on to add, “We started out with a sold-out Alabama show. The carnival had the best day that they ever had. We had great concerts. People always love the food and the rides. Overall, we’ve been blessed with good weather and a great fair week,” said Collins.
Another big plus very favorably received by fair-goers was the timely construction of a new pedestrian underpass, completed just before the start of the fair. The new walkway was built to improve access across U.S. Route 219 to the state fairgrounds.
“It’s easier for people. You’re not worrying about the steep grades. You’re not worrying about crossing 219 with cars. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback with that new addition to the fairgrounds,” Collins said.
With the school year staring earlier statewide, Collins hopes to underscore activities to encourage the schools to include the fair as an educational resource to students.
“We need to find a way to get schools in here on field trips, and let them know that there are opportunities to learn at the State Fair, like scavenger hunts and lesson plans,” said Collins. These and other educational opportunities are planned for next year’s event, and, she said, fair officials are looking into some ticketing programs, educational tours and school field trips for the coming years.
A major issue on her plate, affecting not only the State Fair but other area events, is finding a way to address backed up traffic.
“We saw that, especially the first Saturday, we had some traffic and ticket line backup that we’re looking to change for next year, just in case it’s the same situation,” she said.
Collins said she is looking into alternate parking locations and using shuttle services to help alleviate the problem. In seeking support, she has had discussions with both the CVB and the county commission.
Even though crowds flocked to the fairgrounds on the weekends, vendors said crowds were more sparse on the weekdays. “Our weekdays, Monday through Friday, were pretty quiet, but overall, I think business has been well here at the fair,” said Carmela Shires, who owns multiple food stands at the fair.
As a youthful CEO, with her first fair event under her belt, Collins said she could not have done it without the complete support from her staff, all the fair departments, the county and law enforcement agencies, 250 full time hirees, as well as the GEHS band students directing traffic. She says the experience was busy, but exciting, and she can’t wait to see what next year brings.
“Seeing people leave with smiles on their faces – you know that they made memories that will last.”