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Ozark Empire Fair has solid run


By Linda McNatt

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If you've dreamed about going one-on-one with a burly female lumberjack, you may have missed your opportunity.

The Ozark Empire Fair, in Springfield, Mo., closed Aug. 3. Attendance was excellent, the weather was warm but nice, said fair manager Aaron Owen, but the fair committee won't be able to come up with exact attendance numbers for some time.

"We're not a big fair, and we just don't have the equipment for fast numbers," said Owen. "It'll probably be about two months before we can positively announce something."

But they do know for sure that the Ax Women of Maine, with world champion ax thrower Alissa Harper, was one of the most popular acts to ever hit the fair. Harper is president and founder of the company which also has a sporting competition side of the business that gives her ax women an opportunity to compete world wide. Harper participates in all male lumberjack shows in her home state of Maine. The company's equipment sponsors are STIHL, of Virginia Beach, Va., and LOGRITE, of Vernon, Conn.

The women involved in the act are true-to-life and hardcore. They currently possess world championships in ax throw, underhand chop and standing block chop. The women's  high energy performance is set to current country-rock hits.

During the day, Ozark Empire Fair attendees were given the opportunity to participate in log rollingand ax throwing instruction with the Ax Women. Participants were required to sign a waiver in advance, and anyone under the age of 18 had to have the permission of a parent or guardian.

Admission for the fair, which ran from July 25 through Aug. 3, was $8 a day for anyone age 13 and older. The cost for children 6 to 12 was $4, and those  4 and under were free. There was a $4 parking fee.

The non-profit Ozark Empire Foundation was formed in 2003 to provide agricultural youth scholarships and grants and fund major improvements at the Ozark Empire Fair Grounds and it's livestock facilities.

Since 2004, over $545,500 in scholarships and grants have been awarded to southwest Missouri's 4-H and FFA members, said Owen. More than $400,000 in improvements have been made to the fair grounds.

The fair committee could have expected just about anything as far as the weather was concerned. The city, with a population of more than 160,000 according to the 2010 census, has a reputation as having "the most varied weather in the entire United States."

Springfield is where Route 66 started. It was the first paved U.S. numbered highway in America and stretches from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Coast.

Springfield is also where Wild Bill Hickok on July 21, 1865 had his famous gun battle with Davis Tutt on town square. Hickok was later charged with murder, later reduced to manslaughter.

Nobody can say if Springfield's spot in history helped to attract fair-goers, but the bright lights of the midway at night surely had something to do with the attraction to the fair.

Owen couldn't say how many rides there were, but they covered everything from Ferris Wheels to merry-go-rounds.

The midway itself, provided by Wade Shows, of Michigan and Florida, encompassed between eight and 10 acres on the grounds, said Owen, a larger space than the midway area at the Missouri State Fair, which began last week.

Wristband pricing ranged from a $35 mega ticket for several days to a $25 wristband on weekends.

One of the most popular draws at the Empire Ozark Fair were the livestock exhibits.  There were animals of every type in the arenas: horses, draft horses, cattle, draft ponies, miniature mules, miniature donkeys, poultry, rabbits, sheep and swine. Judges for the competitions were brought in from Missouri, Oklahoma, Iowa, Georgia and Illinois.

There was also a popular bull riding show and a truck and tractor pull.

The Sweet Summertime car show welcomed cars and trucks of any make or model. Registration fee was $5 plus two cans of canned food for the food drive that was put on by the fair. Several competitions required food donations along with a small registration fee. The food, collected by the Dream Big Food Drive, will be distributed to area food banks after the fair is wrapped up.

 Food vendors offered everything from traditional fair food like funnel cakes, cotton candy and turkey legs to special Missouri favorites.

Another special event of the fair every year is the Fairest of the Fair scholarship competition. Girls from age 16 to 21 compete for queen and princess. The focus is on leadership and community service.

Except for the Ax Women and Hendrick's Racing Pigs, there were no other national acts at the Ozark Empire Fair - that is, singers or bands - this year. However, entertainment acts with regional reputations were showcased, and anyone attending the fair could participate in karaoke.

"We had a great fair, and we assume attendance was up, but we can't say anything official until we get our numbers in," said Owen.

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