Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

County fair brings in record crowd

Two cows born during 60th annual event

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Naomi Brookner/The Gazette
Linda Ibrahim of Silver Spring prepares to kiss the winning pig during the pig races at the Montgomery County fair.

This year's Montgomery County fair, which wrapped up on Saturday, smashed last year's attendance record, making it the most visited fair in its 60-year history.

Fair officials have not tallied their total take, but are hoping the approximately 225,000 visitors – 7,000 more than last year – helped turn a profit, said Martin Svrcek, executive director of the nonprofit Montgomery County Agricultural Center, which hosts the eight-day fair.

In April, the agricultural center announced that financial stress may force a sale of the property — only four of the past 11 years had been profitable.

"I would say at this point in time that this will be a profitable year," Svrcek said Monday. "Our expenses are creeping up, but with a good fair, it helps immensely with the bottom line at the end of the year." Fair profits and losses are often unclear until at least December due to billing cycles, he said.

Hundreds of people watched two cows give birth at the Milking Parlor and Birthing Center in Old MacDonald's Barn, said barn superintendent Beth Smith.

"Elsie," a milking shorthorn owned by Clarksburg farmer Bruce Connelly, delivered a boy, "Rascal." A nameless dairy cow delivered a boy too.

"The first calf born was probably watched by 200 people and the second calf born was probably watched by 250 people," Smith said. "And it's a big deal for lots of people to see that happens."

Lost children keep police busy

The Montgomery County Police helped keep things running smoothly, Svrcek said.

Preliminary data shows that police made 12 arrests and issued seven criminal citations inside and just outside the fair, said Capt. Luther Reynolds, who heads county police Special Operations Division. Arrests included one for disorderly conduct, one for petty theft and one for concealing a butterfly knife, while citations included several for drugs, possession of alcohol by minors and furnishing alcohol to minors.

"When you consider the length of the fair – all the days and all the hours and all the people on any given night – I would characterize that as very few significant problems," Reynolds said.

Police also issued 47 trespass citations, 13 of which were gang-related citations issued "mainly on the first day," he said.

County police gang units inside the fair and at entrances looked for known gang members and self-identifying clothing and conducted interviews.

A total of 77 children were lost and reunited with their families throughout the fair, he said. Police reunited 21 children and their parents on Saturday night.

An added parking lot exit to Perry Parkway helped crowds disperse better than last year, when bottlenecks brought myriad complaints, even 9-1-1 calls, Svrcek said.

"It was a great fair…All the cylinders were clicking," Svrcek said.