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Walworth County Fair an ideal destination for tourists

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Ted Sullivan
August 23, 2008
— If you go to the Walworth County Fair next week, you’ll be among attendants from the Midwest, far corners of the United States and even other parts of the world.

People travel from far and wide to attend the fair, filling hotels, restaurants and shops in Elkhorn and beyond.


They’re from places as close as Milwaukee, Chicago and Rockford, Ill., to areas as far as New York, California and Europe.


Organizers say the fair is a destination event for people outside Walworth County for many reasons: its location, reputation, Labor Day timing and proximity to other attractions.


“We are the largest tourism event in Walworth County,” fair spokeswoman Sue Pruessing said. “You can’t really find a hotel anywhere in the area during the fair.”


Steve Hatcher, executive director of the Elkhorn Chamber of Commerce, said the city booms during fair time.


“Our community during fair week goes from a town of 9,000 to about 150,000,” Hatcher said. “That’s a lot of folks. We’ve got 150,000 new faces around here for a week.”


Bob Williams, state coordinator for Wisconsin county fairs, said Walworth County’s fair attracted 157,000 people in 2007, rivaling Sheboygan County for the highest attendance in the state.


By comparison, Rock County’s fair attracted 70,000 people.


Part of Walworth County’s success is its proximity to metro areas such as Milwaukee and Chicago, Williams said. And the fair is close to attractions such as Geneva Lake.


Walworth County also had the most exhibits in 2007 and paid the most in prize money, he said.


“It’s always been a good fair to go to,” Williams said.


The fair started more than 150 years ago, Pruessing said, and people once rode the train to the fair from Chicago.


The fair was the last summer hurrah for industrialists in the surrounding metro areas who wanted one last weekend out of the city, she said.


Much of today’s fair success stems from those early beginnings.


“People typically do this as their last big thing before they go back to the city and close their summer homes,” Pruessing said. “It’s been a great getaway.”


Another attraction is that the fair is one of only seven in the state that still has harness racing.


And it has listed Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers, Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban as its grandstand performers over the years.


“They’ve always had some pretty big-time entertainment,” Williams said.


The state estimates the fair contributes $4 million to the local economy.


The money comes from thousands of visitors, exhibitors and vendors who sleep, shop and spend money in Walworth County, said Kathleen Seeberg, executive director of the Walworth County Visitors Bureau.


“I have spoken to a lot of visitors who say they attend the fair every year and look forward to returning,” Seeberg said. “This is the only fair they go to.


“We’re their choice,” she said. “We’re their destination.”


The fair also has become the time for families and former classmates to reunite, Pruessing said, and the event employs dozens of seasonal workers.


Williams, who has attended all 76 county and district fairs in the state, said Walworth County’s fair is among the best.


“I think Walworth County has built up a good name for itself and it has built up a tradition, so I think that is what makes it a destination fair,” he said. “Walworth County kind of reminds you of the traditional county fair.”


IF YOU GO

What: The Walworth County Fair


When: Wednesday, Aug. 27, through Monday, Sept. 1.


Where: 411 E. Court St., Elkhorn.


Tickets: $9 for adults age 13 and over, $3 for children age 6-12, free for children 5 and under.


For more online: www.walworthcountyfair.com



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