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Jefferson County Fair's youth exhibits bursting out the barn

August 23, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

LEETOWN, W.VA.

charlestown@herald-mail.com

Two years ago, Jefferson County Fair officials opened a new livestock barn to accommodate growing numbers of exhibits.

Now, the barn is full of sheep as the fair gets under way this week.

"We're overflowing with livestock," said fair spokesman Locke Wysong, adding that fair officials had to borrow pens from the Berkeley County Youth Fair to accommodate all the goats that were entered in the fair this week.

When Lola Bane started helping organize youth exhibits six years ago, there were 215 entries.

Bane remembers when the entries jumped to 500 one year and climbed to 1,249 last year.

This year, youth exhibits - where participants can enter everything from suncatchers to peaches - number 1,440, Bane said.

Ginny Tabb, a judge for youth exhibits this year, said the current youth exhibit hall will not be able to hold all the exhibits if the growth in entries continues at that pace.

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Although no decisions have been made, expansion of the fairgrounds is likely, fair president Bob Gruber said.

In many ways, the fair is echoing the county in its rapid growth. The fair thrives even as parts of the county's agricultural landscape begins to give way to residential development, fair organizers have said.

Fair officials recently acquired 32 nearby acres from the Jefferson County Commission and there has been thought about using that land for a variety of uses, including additional parking, Gruber said.

"It seems like the fair grows every year," said Gruber, adding that parking is currently at capacity at the fairgrounds.

Wysong, a recently elected state delegate, said it is too early to tell what changes might be made if livestock entries continue to increase. But he said "we will have to make accommodations. It's growing by leaps and bounds," said Wysong.

The fair opened last Friday and continues through Saturday with a full line of attractions, including livestock judging, performances from local school groups, carnival rides, demonstrations, contests and a performance Wednesday night by Ronnie McDowell.

The fair gives youths and adults a place to show livestock they have raised throughout the year and a chance at winning ribbons and prize money for top animals.

Many youths raise the animals as part of their projects for 4-H and Future Farmers of America groups.

Fair organizers have said one of the reasons the fair does well is because people realize the valuable lessons youths learn from raising livestock.

Youths who exhibit animals may live on county farms or they may keep the animals on a friend's farm, said Wysong.

Emma Yohn, 15, said she got hooked on raising livestock after her father started a farm field at their property in Summit Point, W.Va., nine years ago.

Yohn said her father wanted his children to be active in 4-H.

"I love showing (animals)," said Yohn, who said she wants to pursue an agricultural management degree at West Virginia University.

Patrick Whittington, a student at Jefferson High School, said he started raising livestock three years ago. Whittington, whose grandfather has a farm in Summit Point, said agriculture has always interested him.

"I wanted something to do around the county. It sounded like a lot of fun," said Whittington, who is showing five animals at the fair this week, including a steer.

Some of the youths enter exhibits that are not farm-related.

Participants in the youth exhibit may compete for ribbons in stenciling, etched glass, cake decorating, cross-stitching and embroidery.

"We do a lot of crafts in our family," said Charles Town, W.Va., resident Mason Athey, 12, who won a top prize for a creation he made out of LEGO building blocks.

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