Attendance for the 199th Great Geauga County Fair was up this year with an excess of 230,000 people passing through the gates in Burton during the five-day event over Labor Day weekend, according to fair Director Paul Harris.
Fair attendance in 2019 was 227,906 which was up from 224,018 in 2018, officials said. The fair this year began on Sept. 2 and ended on Monday.
“Everything went real smooth considering the pandemic, considering what we’re dealing with,” he said, pointing to the unknowns facing organizers as the coronavirus pandemic continues. “People got back in the groove of things.
“Our vendors did well, our shows did well and everybody was happy to be out and be back on the grounds,” Mr. Harris said.
Last year, the county fairs statewide were limited to junior fair activities to keep crowds under control as not to spread the highly contagious coronavirus. In March of this year, fair boards across Ohio breathed a sigh of relief when Gov. Mike DeWine gave the green light for regular fair activities this summer.
The fair is a proud family tradition in Northeast Ohio.
Tawnee Gucciardo, 28, from Geneva, Ohio has gone to the Geauga fair every year since she was a little girl.
“My family owns food trailers there and we have the ice cream trailer that’s right outside the grandstands, ever since I was born,” she said. The family usually works at the trailers and hangs out together, she said.
“It’s a generational thing to do. It’s always a community feeling and it’s just genuinely a good place for people to get together, have fun, eat and relax,” Mrs. Gucciardo said. “It just feels like everything is getting back to normal and it’s just more fun to be able to go and not really have to worry about COVID.”
The weather was perfect for this year’s fair with temperatures in the low-70s and mostly sunny skies. A line of cars could be seen on Claridon-Troy Road heading into the fairgrounds this past weekend.
The midway had a new event this year as the Geauga fair organizers welcomed the Sea Lion Splash show. The educational show consisted of a trio of sea lions performing tricks and demonstrations, which included catching rings, demonstrating how to escape a shark and doing a handstand using one flipper to the sound of the “Rocky” theme song.
James Earhart, a trainer who has put on the show for the past eight years from Hawaii to New York, said that this has been a good year for the show.
“I was in the circus business all of my life,” he said, and then started working for a guy who had sea lions.
Over the weekend, the bleachers were packed with kids and adults of all ages to watch the South American sea lion and two smaller California sea lions run through their playful routines.
During the show, spectators enjoyed watching one sea lion dance, another leaping out of the water to touch an object with its nose and Mr. Earhart rewarding the playful trio by feeding them sardines out of a bucket.
Mr. Earhart said that it takes countless hours of time and preparation to put on a successful show.
“I have six kids and seven sea lions, so just like my kids honestly some are better at math, some are better at spelling,” he said. “So my job is to find out what they’re better at and then try and progress with that.”
The show ran several times a day during the fair.
“It’s educational and its entertaining people,” said Mr. Earhart. “A lot of people have never seen a sea lion.”
Another event that intrigued spectators was the woodcarving demonstration tent.
Shari Staiduhar, a professional chainsaw carver for Rocky Mountain Carving Creations, stated that the fair is very special to her.
“There are so many familiar faces, everybody has looked forward to coming out to see my work,” said Mrs. Staiduhar. “There are a lot of repeat customers or repeat people that have watched me for years and years and years.”
Mrs. Staiduhar said she has been carving wood for 24 years and found her inspiration after seeing carvings in Colorado.
“I stopped on street corners and asked how they were made,” said Mrs. Staidhuar. “Nobody could tell me, I came back here and finally realized it was done with chainsaws. Back then we had no Facebook or any type of social media, no YouTube to go and try it out on your own, so I learned myself.”
Among her creations were bears, bald eagles, turtles and a Cleveland Indians Chief Wahoo carving.
“Everything is custom because it’s only being carved by me so I can make anything that anybody wants,” said Mrs. Staiduhar. “The biggest is to make dogs and I can make the likeness of any client’s dog.”
Mrs. Staiduhar said she uses wood from different kind of trees which include oak tree, maple trees, cherry trees and walnut trees.
“After I carve it all, I may detail it a little bit out with a sander so it’s very minimal, it’s usually just smoothing out a face or something,” said Mrs. Staiduhar. “Then I can torch it or paint it, seal it and then I polyurethane it with oil-based polyurethane for exteriors.”
According to Mrs. Staiduhar, last year was a good year for her carving projects because people spent so much time at home due to COVID-19 taking care of their homes and yards.
Mr. Harris said that he could not have asked for a smoother event. Plans already are in the works for the 200th Geauga fair.
Volunteers are the lifesavers of the fair, he said. “We can plan all we want, but if not for those thousands of volunteers that come together and give us a hand, we just couldn’t get it done.
“Our staff is fantastic,” Mr. Harris said. “Everybody embraces [the fair] because it’s what they love.”