URBANA – Rain, even more than the recent heat wave, is being blamed for a drop in attendance at this year's Champaign County Fair.
Final figures have not been determined, but total attendance for the 154th fair was between 48,000 and 49,000, according to Champaign County Fair Manager Karen Duffin.
"We were probably down 10 percent from last year," Duffin said. "We had three days that hurt us."
Average fair attendance is about 60,000, with a good year bringing in 70,000 people for all the events.
"Last year, we had some 100-degree days," Duffin said. "Those hurt you, too."
The fair this year ran July 21 through July 29. There was heavy rain the first night, but the Demolition Derby, one of the most popular events annually, still did pretty well, according to Duffin.
However, rain and lightning Wednesday kept folks away and the motorcycle races scheduled for the grandstand that night were cancelled. The rodeo Thursday night also was cancelled due to muddy conditions, Duffin said.
The fair did manage to have all the livestock shows, horse show and harness racing events. The tractor pull events Saturday also had good attendance, she said.
The fair board will meet to assess this year's events and plan for next year, Duffin said.
"We do need good weather," she said.
One plus for the fair this year was fewer problems with people misbehaving, according to Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh.
This year, there were two arrests at the fair for battery and one for disorderly conduct, Walsh said. Over the nine days of the fair, about a dozen people were ejected from the fairgrounds, for trying to sneak in or misbehaviors inside the fair complex.
Last year, they had two arrests for trespassing and one for domestic battery. In 2004, there were five arrests, including trespassing, driving with a revoked license and possession of marijuana, Walsh said.
Problems with rowdy teenagers peaked during the 2004 fair, when two rival gangs clashed, forcing deputies to eject many people from the fair. The fair was shut down early that night.
Since then, the county has increased security. Fair attendees are given wrist bands when they pay to enter.
"The wrist bands have made a big difference," Walsh said. "If you don't have one, we'll ask for a ticket. If you don't have a wrist band or ticket, we'll ask you to leave."
There were about 20 deputies working at the fair Saturday night, Walsh said.
"You couldn't walk 50 feet without bumping into one of us," the sheriff said.
On slower nights, five to eight deputies were assigned at the fair.
Walsh said deputies were quick to respond and headed off trouble before it occurred in many cases.
"We did hop right on some stuff," he said.