Officials say minor headaches don't deter positives of 4-H fair
JANESVILLE The Rock County 4-H Fair causes some occasional minor headaches, but fair officials say the positives far outweigh any negatives.
"All pluses," said Rock County 4-H Fair Board President Rob McConnell. "The fair is an awesome opportunity for kids to show off what they've done, what they've worked on, all summer."
"We bring lots of different vendors," said Mary Check, Rock County 4-H Fair office manager. "I'd think we see a rise in tourism and people from out of town spending money during the fair.
"Along with big-name acts, we have lots of entertainment on different stages. For six days, 15 hours a day, something is going on here."
Fair board member John Quinn pointed to the new entertainment each year and the safe, family-friendly environment as two positive aspects of the fair.
"The Rock County Sheriff's Office works hard to try and keep it that way, so parents can drop their kids off and know they'll be at a safe place," Quinn said.
The sheriff's office has a contract with the fair to provide law enforcement for six days at a cost of $12,000.
"We're there 24 hours a day once the fair starts," said Sgt. Jason Harding, who oversees police operations during the fair. "We get a gamut of complaints: parking, lost or found property, thefts and battery complaints, lost children."
Harding said the sheriff's office also is responsible for securing the property of vendors, exhibitors and entertainers.
Fair officials can be proactive in maintaining a safe environment, but there isn't a whole lot to do about the weather.
"Sometimes the weather, especially heat and rain, can adversely affect us," Quinn said.
Rain hurts attendance, and heat stresses livestock.
"Usually, we get a few warm days, but if you think about it, it's just as warm back on the farm," said Randy Thompson, retired UW Extension dairy and livestock agent. "At the fair, they probably get better attention than what they might get at home, with exhibitors taking them out to the wash rack."
Officials were taking precautions to keep swine stay cool as they were brought in during Monday's heat, fair swine Superintendent Mark Gunn said.
"We have garden hoses all along where the trailers will line up, we've opened up pens to use for a wash bay, and we're telling kids to constantly wet the pens."
Clint Wallisch hauled his son Nathan's Suffolk lambs to the fairgrounds Monday afternoon. Wallisch said the fair has outgrown its venue and should move outside city limits.
"Parking is always a nightmare," he said. "Getting in and out of here with a trailer is terrible. The fairgrounds aren't set up to do that."
Fair officials hope opening parking at Adams Elementary, 1138 E. Memorial Drive, will improve that situation. Parking spots will be available for $5 each, and proceeds will benefit the Janesville Excellence in Education Foundation. The foundation provides private support to the Janesville School District for educational programming that falls outside the range of the school district budget.
Another occasional complaint is that the fair is not as focused on agriculture as it was in previous years.
"That is true, we are less agriculture-based, but the exhibitors and the farm kids are going to be here, anyway," Quinn said. "It's kind of a shame we don't have that kind of stuff, but we don't have that kind of room.
"I remember when all the (equipment) dealers were down here—Johnson, IG Hall, Scharine—all down the middle of the fairgrounds."
"If we had the room, we could still do all of that," McConnell said.
"It's an old, old fair," Quinn said. "There's a lot of tradition here. It may not be the biggest fair, but a lot of people work hard to get it where it's at."