(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com) — It’s been 85 years in the making, but the 2022 Waterford Community Fair is nearly underway.
The fair kicks off on Labor Day (Sept. 5). And the fair will feature all of the events and programs the community has come to love about the Waterford Community Fair. That’s horses, livestock, a midway with rides, fair food, a tractor pull, an ATV rodeo, and a demolition derby. It’s also live music, needlecraft, art, flowers, produce, dairy and all the things that make a country home a country home.
Kim Gates is the director and treasurer of the 2022 Waterford Fair. He has been personally involved with the fair for more than 20 years. He started in the data side of the fair, compiling the data of 4,000-6,000 entries each year. It’s no small task.
“It’s just crazy how many different categories we have in 22 different departments, and then there are subcategories under each of those,” Gates said.
The fair will begin receiving entries at 9 a.m. on Sept. 4 and the weigh-in for market animals begins at 2 p.m.
The real action of the fair will begin with judging at 9 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 5. While judges get their difficult task underway, the Horse Show will begin, as will a Youth Beef Fitting and Showmanship event.
Admission is $4 per person for anybody older than 8. A fair booster button costs $8 and comes with a week of admission. Parking is free.
“We’re not going to raise that. This helps our overhead and helps us pay insurances and maintenance, but after admission there are no additional costs other than for food or rides,” Gates said.
For example, the demolition derby is at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 6, and that’s free with paid admission; the antique tractor pull begins at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 7, and that’s also free with paid admission; the ATV rodeo begins at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 8, and again — also free. (The full schedule is available on the Waterford Community Fair website.)
“The weekly pass is $8, so for less than the cost of a bucket of fries, you can get six nights of entertainment,” Gates said.
That’s all saying something, especially when the cost of just about everything is more than it was this same time last year. The fair also has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic. But the fair is holding steady.
“Prices are going up, and other fairs are jacking up their entry fees, but not here. We try to give back,” Gates said. “Financially, we’re safe in that we can weather the storm of a couple of years of COVID without having to worry about if we’re going to go belly up.
“And that’s really attributed to the people who ran the fair before us, and we’re guardians of that community asset,” Gates added. “It’s our job to make sure the fair is going to be here for the next 85 years.”
The fair began in 1937 when members of the Waterford community gathered to celebrate the harvest and a year of hard work. For more than 80 years, it’s been an opportunity to people to gather together, and not only say they bake the best pie, but to actually prove they bake the best pie, Gates said. But more important than the bragging rights that fuel the competitions throughout the week is the focus on agriculture education.
“At the fair you see these guys that can fix a tractor or go out and harvest a crop, raise an animal or be self-sufficient, and these kids are learning that,” Gates said. “You get a real warm and fuzzy feeling about that, but you also realize it’s a very tough profession.”
There’s no one, single event or program that serves as a flagship more than any other, Gates said. The midway and its rides draw some people. The Ferris wheel adds to the ambiance. The food is appreciated. The demolition derby is fun.
“It’s not any one thing — it’s the Waterford fair that is the flagship. It’s the sum of the whole. There’s something every night,” Gates said. “A free demolition derby certainly plays a big role, but that’s not why they come here. They come here because they feel warm and welcomed… It’s that down home feeling.”
The fair lasts nearly a whole week, from Sept. 5 through Saturday, Sept. 10. Behind the scenes, however, it’s a year of work to make that one week-long event come to life. A board of 15 directors put together the pieces all year, and then 150-175 volunteers work throughout the week to make the fair come to life.
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“I can’t credit this board of 15 people enough,” Gates said. “If any credit is to be given, it’s to that group and not to any one person. That group is a well-oiled machine.”