Keith Keiser of Napoleon looks over a powerful pull truck in Wauseon that will be at the Fulton County Fair, which opens today.
WAUSEON - If Fulton County Fair's attendance figures are accurate, it's one of the biggest events of the year in northwest Ohio.
The fair, which opens today, is expected to draw at least 250,000 people to its grounds north of Wauseon by Thursday night when it lowers its flag. Last year, attendance was a record 260,122.
"We're an old, traditional fair," fair board president Carl Buehrer said of the 148th annual fair. "We have a good location off the turnpike. We've had it on Labor Day weekend for years and years."
The fair's single-day attendance record is 60,792 set two years ago on the Sunday before Labor Day.
Westfield Franklin Park claims to draw about that many people on the Saturday before Christmas.
But there's not much else in northwest Ohio that compares to such numbers.
●The University of Toledo's largest athletic event ever was the UT-Navy football game that drew 36,852 people in 2001.
●Bowling Green State University's largest home football game drew 33,527 people to watch the Falcons battle UT in 1983.
●Toledo Museum of Art's best attended exhibition was the Age of Rubens which drew 234,030 people, but that was over a period of almost three months in 1994. Its record single-day attendance is 14,312, which dates back to 1949 when crowds flocked to see masterpieces from Berlin museums.
●At the Toledo Zoo, the busiest day of the panda exhibition in 1988 drew 14,990 people.
Considering that the U.S. Census Bureau determined in 2000 that the population of Fulton County is 42,084, the fair's numbers are even more amazing. That means the record single- day attendance increased the number of people in the county by at least 50 percent that Sunday.
A few area fair leaders question Fulton County's numbers, wondering if they're inflated like the Ohio State Fair's numbers from years ago. But other fair managers say inflating attendance is self-defeating because liability insurance bills are based on attendance and such costs have risen so rapidly in recent years that successful fairs never overstate their numbers.
Mr. Buehrer said the fair estimates the number of people on its 180 acres based on ticket sales, season passes, and campers.
"We know when you can't get up the midways on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday that there's a tremendous amount of people here," said Mr. Buehrer, who has been president for 33 years.
Mr. Buehrer said some fair board members were worried that gas prices that rose to more than $3 a gallon this week might cut into attendance. Many Toledo residents, an hour away from the fairgrounds in Dover Township, consider the Fulton County Fair to be their fair and drive to it instead of the Lucas County Fair, which has struggled for years in Maumee.
Many former Fulton County residents return to the fair every year, like an annual reunion.
Mr. Buehrer credited the success of the 148-year-old fair to listening to fairgoers suggestions over the years. This year the fair added a tractor rodeo and a three-on-three basketball tournament to its Sunday afternoon events, which also include the Budweiser Clydesdales.
On Saturday afternoon it will hold a free, big-band style dance featuring the Johnny Knorr Orchestra to honor World War II veterans, courtesy of the Fulton County United Veterans Association.
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