By Nancy Arsenault
In just two weeks, an area tradition continues: the 132-year-old Bolton Fair officially opens August 8. While it’s now held in Lancaster and no longer a production of the founding Farmers and Mechanics Association, its agricultural identity still forms the backbone. Add in Monster Trucks, Racing Pigs and fried Oreos, and the modern day Bolton Fair continues to draw crowds.
“Last year was the best Bolton Fair ever,” said Fair President Rose Darden, of the attendance.
After a rain-soaked Friday opening left the grounds nearly void of people, the next two days brought 25,000 attendees through the gates. “It was absolutely incredible,” she said.
Darden certainly can make some comparisons as the 2014 Bolton Fair marks 24 years of her behind-the-scenes work. Over two dozen loyal volunteers have put in similar decades of service. “There are families who schedule vacation so they can work on the Fair. Their kids, who have grown and moved away, come back to work on the Fair. We are definitely a family here,” she said.
That family has also been through some tough times. In 1989, the non-profit Bolton Fair purchased 53 acres of land with the vision to move the Fair from the confines of the school grounds in Bolton to a more appropriate parcel. Adding infrastructure, clearing land, building roadways and moving pole barns from Bolton to Lancaster consumed years before the Fair itself could move to its new home.
Soon after the gates opened, several consecutive years of severe weather during the September Fair week wrought financial calamity and warned of future instability for the Fair. With mortgage payments looming, organizers waved the white weather flag and rescheduled the Fair to its early August date.
“Some people insist we should move it back. It was tradition,” said Darden, “but we had to survive. People will not come out in a cold September rainstorm. But they will walk through a cooling August shower or enjoy the sunshine that comes right afterwards.”
Darden said that a Bolton Fair experience is a uniquely New England experience, especially when it comes to agriculture. Darden said the farmers, exhibitors and competitors who participate in the Fair, are among the best at what they do, and that comes as no surprise to organizers.
The Bolton Fair pays substantial premiums, totaling $25,000, to top finishers in most agricultural competition categories. Those include the tractor pull, horse pull and 4-H animal exhibits. In past years, state funding for premiums was passed along to regional fairs to help attract exhibitors and encourage participation. “That funding has stopped,” said Darden.
Now, the Bolton Fair fully funds all of the premiums, at the same levels as in the past, strictly from admission gate revenue. “We’ve had 4H
kids walk away with $400-500 after winning the sheep event,” she said. “We hope that premium will pay for some of their costs to raise that animal and will encourage them to continue.”
Gate revenues are the main source of income for the Fair, and despite their importance, Darden said organizers have declined to raise the admission price over the past few years. It now sits at $10 for adults, $6 for seniors and $5 for children 7-12. Multi-Day passes are $15 for adults and $7 for children. “For that one price, other than paying for the Midway or for food, everything else is free. You can be entertained here for 12 hours if you want to be. How much do you spend going to a 2-hour movie? That’s $25,” said Darden. “The Fair is still a bargain, especially for a family.”
Darden said that the admission even allows access to the Monster Truck event and Demolition Derby that are proving to be quite popular. To make room for the growing spectator crowds, the Midway was moved farther onto the fairgrounds recently, allowing the trucks and Derby to be situated where the Midway formerly stood along Rt. 117. “We rent bleachers there so people have a place to sit down comfortably and watch,” said Darden.
Parking is free, even though a small fee of $1/car was charged when the Fair resided in Bolton. Darden said the free parking makes going to the Fair that much easier for visitors and she is grateful for the opportunity to rent the field space across from the Fairgrounds for that purpose. “While we do have a lot of acreage of our own, we are using all of it that is not wetlands or restricted, so there is nowhere on our own property for parking,” she said.
With more events and vendors being added to the Fair every day, Darden said the 2014 Bolton Fair will definitely be a crowd pleaser. But what would please these organizers the most? “Being fully debt free,” said Darden emphatically, who said the weight of the $450,000 mortgage is never far from organizers thoughts.
“We once received an anonymous donation of $10,000 and we never found out who it was. We all cried. We were so overcome that someone thought enough of us to entrust us with $10,000 to keep doing what we are doing. The thing is, without the mortgage payments, the Fair is fully self-sustaining and could go on indefinitely,” said Darden.
In the meantime, she and her band of loyal volunteers will continue to work to ensure it continues, “at least in my lifetime,” concluded Darden. “People still love coming to the Fair and we still love putting it on.”