More people visiting fair, but paid attendance dips

More than 70,000 people attended this year’s Merced County Fair, representing a spike from last year’s attendance, officials announced Wednesday.

Total attendance recorded was 73,465 people, a 7 percent boost from last year’s attendance of 68,601. Paid attendance, however, was 44,428, an 11 percent drop from last year’s 50,035.

The five-day event offered several promotions for free admission, a possible reason for the increase in fairgoers. Senior citizens entered the fair free of charge on opening day, June 11. Children 12 and younger got in free June 12. Everyone entered the fair gates at no cost from noon until 3 p.m on closing day, June 15.

Tom Musser, Merced County Fair CEO, said the reason for the admission promotions and the low $5 entrance fee was to make entertainment affordable for residents during challenging economic times, but added that the fair in itself was good enough to draw in a crowd.

“A bargain admission isn’t enough to attract fairgoers and keep them coming back,” Musser said. “The fair offered a lot of entertainment value for the price of admission and we couldn’t have asked for better weather.”

This year’s fair presented new contests and activities, including a “farm junk” sculpture contest, with the public voting for their favorites; Cowboy Boot Camp activities for youngsters; a homebrew beer contest; and a Best in the West ribs contest.

Entertainment included an opening day fireworks show, a daily parade of antique tractors, livestock exhibits, petting zoos and night concerts.

At this year’s fair, 1,041 pounds of canned food were collected for the Merced County Food Bank, and 565 animals were sold at the Junior Livestock Auction.

For the first time, the county fair teamed up with Merced’s regional transit system, The Bus, to provide free bus rides from the Transpo Center to the fairgrounds and back.

Musser said he is proud of the 123rd Merced County Fair, and along with his team has already started planning for the 2015 fair.