MONROE - It might seem hard to improve on more than five decades of success, but each year Monroe County Fair Director Warren Siebarth and the 35 other members of the Fair Association strive to find a way.
Sometimes they find big things to spruce up around the 125-acre home of the largest county fair in Michigan, like this year's $10,000 makeover of the bandshell, or the $15,000 in new paint that seems to have brightened up the place considerably.
Other times, the improvements might go unnoticed, like the thousands of dollars in new asphalt and drainage around the fairgrounds that aims to keep patrons' feet dry during those fair week downpours.
“If we don't do it now, it just doesn't get done,” Mr. Siebarth said last week.
Time was running short, even as dozens of work crews spent last week prepping and preening new exhibits for the 55th annual Monroe County Fair, which starts Sunday.
The pinnacle of Monroe County's collective social season each summer, the Monroe County Fair draws tens of thousands of visitors each day of its weeklong run to experience everything from livestock demonstrations and auctions to Monster Truck shows and the Budweiser Clydesdale team.
In 2001, about 164,000 visitors passed through the turnstiles near the intersection of M-50 and South Raisinville Road, down slightly from the year before, a decline Mr. Siebarth said is from factors that are beyond his control.
“It was hot, and I think the hot weather hurt us more than anything,” Mr. Siebarth said.
However, the fair director said he hopes this year's lineup of entertainment and near record number of 4-H exhibitors reverses that situation.
While community entertainment may be the draw that brings people through the gates, the real spirit behind the annual fair is found in any of the 4-H exhibition halls and stables.
The county remains No. 1 in the state and one of the biggest in the nation in the number of 4-H exhibitors, with its more than 24,300 entrants in such fields as livestock, vegetables, art, and dried flowers, said Judy See, Monroe County 4-H Youth Agent.
“We've got more kids probably doing less per member, but our enrollment has continued to grow. Our livestock numbers are up this year. Our poultry is up dramatically, for example,” Mrs. See said.
This year, just over 2,400 members in the county have entered exhibits at the fair.
In addition to the action in the grandstand and in the livestock, craft, and vegetable judging, this year's fair will once again feature other entertainment and amusements, including concerts, clowns, rides, and a chainsaw art exhibition.