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Merced County Fair Builds on Connections, Attractions, to Keep Fair Thriving
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The 127th annual Merced County Fair took place from June 6 to 10 and was said to be a great success.

“We had a great run this year, and brought in even more entertainment for the community to enjoy,” says Teresa Burrola, CEO of the fair. “All in all, it was a wonderful fair thanks to the continued support of our wonderful community.”

The fair board makes it a priority to become an involved leg of the community, actively seeking out community input. This positive agenda has been very influential when it comes to the fair's ongoing success.

“Part of creating a thriving and successful fair and fairgrounds is staying connected to your community,” Burrola shares. “Deep connection leads to deep involvement and support in the form of fairgoers, sponsors, renters, et cetera. Staying connected is imperative, which is why we have focused on building connection opportunities,” she continues. “We've created programs that serve the community, like our food drive that benefits the Merced County Food Bank, and helps create a valuable partnership with UC Merced. As a fair team, we are constantly out in the community talking about the fair and listening to what people want to see. We are continuously making adjustments to keep things fresh, improve our grounds and further establish programs that draw in involvement from the broader community.”

In addition to the community connections, she says there has also been a goal to bring in new and engaging fair activities, which definitely happened this year.

Old & New Entertainment Attracts Crowds

Alongside the usual crowd favorites such as magicians, livestock judging/shows and merchandise vendors, several fresh attractions were added for 2018.

The fair's former Home Arts Exhibit Building was converted into an educational and interactive exhibit all based on STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math – curriculum. Activities included Puzzlemania, where visitors could solve brain teasers, games and puzzles; as well as a robotics exhibit contributed by students at area high schools who also compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition Central Valley Regional. Dubbed the Discovering Science Exhibit Building, the venue was a huge success.

“In its first year, it has already attracted a couple educational institutions who want to be involved next year,” Burrola says.

Other popular new attractions included the Baseball Throw Zone, Soccer Kick Station, and Paw Patrol characters, Chase and Skye.

The grandstand Gran Jaripeo – complete with bull riding, dancing horses and Banda music – especially drew in a large crowd, selling-out tickets. Other packed shows included the Merced Speedway Auto Racing, WGAS Motorsports' Monster Trucks, Valley Tractor Pullers' Tractor Pull and Humpz & Hornz “Bad to the Bone” Bull Riding.

Free and live music and entertainment was featured on the Coors Light and Prime Shine Car Wash stages and outdoor musical acts performed at the Outdoor Theatre as part of the Table Mountain Free Concert Series. The acts that were featured included Uptown Funk-Bruno Mars Tribute, Mark Chestnut, Sheila E., Moonshine Bandits and Selena-The Ultimate Tribute.

Carnival Midway
Midway entertainment was provided by Butler Amusements, which offered 37 rides. Some of the favorites were said to be the stomach-turning Turbo and Vertigo rides, as well as the tried-and-true Ferris wheel. Children also enjoyed the Wacky Worm rollercoaster and the Samba Balloon.

A few of the most popular food vendors this year were said to be the Log Cabin Kettle Corn, Oriental Chinese Cuisine and the Red & White Corn Dog Stand.

Attendance, Admission & Discounts
As the fair fell on graduation week for a number of schools, there was a slight decrease in attendance for 2018. Around 71,201 people came out for the festivities this year in comparison to the record-breaking total of 72,338 fairgoers last year.

Admission for 2018 was $9 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 12. Kids under 5 were free.

Affordability was a special focus for fair management and there were a lot of early and fair-time discounts available.

Carnival wristbands and discounts of bulk ticket packages were available in the days leading up to the fair. Wednesday of the four-day event the fair featured Mercy Medical Center's “We Care Wednesday” from 5 to 7 p.m. The discount day invited people to get into the fair for free if they brought five or more cans of food in for donation. The food drive was held in partnership with the community food drive effort presented by University Industrial Park and supported by University of California Merced.

A total of 6,640 pounds of food was collected and donated to the Merced County Food Bank.

When it came to other discounts, opening day was Senior's Day and senior citizens over the age of 62 got into the fair for free. Kids Day was also featured on Thursday. Children 12 and under were admitted for free.

The annual advertising budget is broken down through billboards, print, TV, Radio, digital and social advertising. The budget for the 2018 Merced County Fair was $50,000.

Looking Ahead
Looking toward the future, Burrola says that one of the main challenges the Merced County Fair has faced over the last few years has been securing enough funding to ensure it keeps running to the best of its ability. Though she says that making sure there is enough funding will continue to be a factor in providing the best fair possible to the community, she also reiterates that things seem to be shifting upward through the extensive efforts at community involvement. It will be an ongoing project, however.

“The more connection points created, the more involvement we secure, the more successful we will be,” she shares. “And more than that, the more intertwined we will be with our community in a positive manner.”
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