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86th West Virginia State Fair
Reithoffer on the midway
By Lisa and Robert Limerick
Rolling hills, hot sun and Reithoffer,s Dutch Wheel were all part of the backdrop for the 86th annual West Virginia State Fair in Fairlea, WV.
This year,s fair ran from August 13-21 and came close to their goal of 200,000 guests for the nine day event. The biggest day of the event was the first Saturday where over 35,000 people passed through the gate.
The West Virginia State Fair is a private, non-profit organization that runs on donations and sponsors. Even though other fairs around the country are losing state funding due to budget cutbacks, West Virginia is still providing the state fair with $50,000 in funding. In return, the state fair returns an average $100,000 to the state in taxes from ticket and food sales during the event.
Keeping the fair affordable for attendees was a goal of the event. Fairgoers could enter the fairgrounds for $10 during the day and on weekends. During the week there was a special price of $5 after 5 PM and the fair worked with Reithoffer to give ride discounts and gate admission combo packages.
On location camping was available throughout the event for $10 for the whole fair. Families could pitch a tent and there were four bathhouses and showers available for use to make the fair experience even richer. Unlike many other fairs, parking was free and accessible by walking or riding one of the many free trams on the property.
Food, as always, was a big part of the fair with 52 vendors not including the choices Reithoffer brought with the midway. Food options included southwestern style, pizza, Apple Dumplings, old fashioned sodas, several theme diners, and the state fair cafeteria that offered different food choices daily like pork bbq or chicken. West Virginia State Fair Manager Marlene Pierson-Jolliffe stated that "food drives the fair" and that they try to get the right amount of food vendors so everyone makes money and they try to avoid duplicates.
The Kraft Veleeta shells tour made a stop at the fair during the first weekend and gave fairgoers the opportunity to try new products from the company. Cooks corner was held and had a recipe contest, food demonstrations, and the West Virginia Rib Cook-off. Also during the fair an attempt to break the Guinness Book Of World Records for the largest cup of soda or lemonade was held.
The West Virginia State Fair,s theme was "Genuine Homegrown Fun" and that proved a good theme with all of the state tradition and agriculture represented during the event. The West Virginia Heritage Village showed off antique tractors, a sawmill grist mill, blacksmith shop, and an educational garden to teach fairgoers about fruits and vegetables.
New this year was the Hi Tunnel greenhouse to promote extended growing seasons by farmers using it well into the fall and winter. Farmers had a chance to check out other new tips and techniques about the farming industry along with new tractors and farm equipment.
Kids of all ages got into the agricultural swing with the new Moo-U exhibit and the nationwide popular show AG Magic that puts magic, comedy, and agriculture together to teach children the importance of farming. There were over 60 animal shows during the event that included llamas, sheep, cattle, and many more. The West Virginia building hosted flower contests, produce and arts and crafts for all age groups.
New performances this year included the widely popular Kay Rosaire,s Big Cat Encounter. Clayton Rosaire is the youngest professional big cat handler in the world and works with a wide variety of Siberian and Bengal tigers. Clayton put his life on the line several times daily during the fair to show off his and his cats, talents. Circus Equinox Theatrical Circus made their state fair debut with a great display of aerial feats, strength, coordination, and acrobatics. Circus Equinox puts circus acts with Broadway flair to continue today what is one of the oldest circus dynasties in history.
Other events included Denny the Rodeo Clown roaming around the fairgrounds mixing his comedy with miming, Zoopsters danced and created havoc on the midway and in the grandstands with their wildly insane craziness, the Zhu-niverse Tour made a stop at the fair during the first weekend giving kids the chance to meet and play in the Zhu world like in the video games based on the Zhu-Zhu pet animals.
Some events that return every year continue to thrive today as they have in the past. Events included the popular Draft Horse Pull and Harness Racing. Manager Pierson-Jolliffe said that the fair is alcohol free, providing a family atmosphere.
The main grandstand shows were popular this year with over 26,000 tickets sold for the seven ticketed shows including two sell outs. The sellouts were two of the hottest country music acts of the day. Lady Antebellum was the first show to sell out before the event started and rising star Jason Aldean with special guest Easton Corbin sold out before the show. George Jones, Rodney Atkins, and Justin Moore made up the rest of the country acts and all had strong crowd responses. Other strong ticket sales included the FMX motocross championships and the Buckin B Bull Riding contest.
Reithoffer held the midway again this year as they have since 1989 and brought 48 rides, food and game concessions. Fair Manager Marlene Pierson-Jolliffe took over as manager in 2004 and has worked hard with Reithoffer to make sure they are on the same team and to make improvements to the grounds to make for a better midway. Reithoffer recently invested in paving the Kiddieway to meld into the rest of the fair. Pierson-Jolliffe added that "the fair doesn,t issue long term contracts to ensure Reithoffer and other vendors are always planning to do better next time" she also stated that "our job is to market the fair to get people here to ride their rides, their job is to provide the best rides.
Some of Reithoffer,s rides included the Cliff Hanger, Freakout, a Full Tilt, Himalaya, Mardi Gras Funhouse, the Wild Mouse coaster, Orbiter, Pharaohs Fury, the Ring of Fire, Scrambler, the Huss Tornado that was a crowd favorite plus several more. Some of the Kiddie rides on that newly paved area included the Fire Chief, Helicopter, Mini Himalaya, Scrambler, and Indy. The Indy was a little roller coaster built for kids and their parents. Pierson-Jolliffe mentioned that the state fair shares the cost of ride inspections with Reithoffer and their relationship continues to be a great one.
Other interesting things on the midway were the dime toss game, bingo, and the Fat Albert Color Wheel Game where a guest bet a quarter on the color of choice and a white rat on the spinning wheel would enter a hole the color of which would determine the winner.
Other than a malfunction on opening day with the new ticket machines along with some electrical problems on the midway, the fair went off without a hitch. Pierson-Jolliffe stated that work for next year,s fair had already begun with plans to hardwire the ticket booths instead of the wi-fi that was being used this year.
The 2011 West Virginia State Fair will be held August 12-21 with Reithoffer providing the midway again. Marlene Pierson-Jolliffe declared that her favorite part of the fair "is seeing families walk through our gates and leave our gates with smiles".