The Champaign County Fair opened Friday morning, kicking off a week of activities that has become an important tradition for many local families.
The fair, which will continue through next Friday, is something Chris Hodge has enjoyed since he was a child, and is now passing on to the next generation. On Friday, he walked the fairgrounds with his children Payton, 6, Ethan, 4, as well as Cami McDonald, 8. The group is staying all week at the fairgrounds, where they will show hogs.
“I grew up doing it, so I’m trying to get my kids into it too,” Hodge said.
Andrea Holland and her daughter Sophia, 6, wandered through the fairgrounds Friday morning before they celebrated Sophia’s Cloverbud recognition ceremony later in the afternoon. It was Sophia’s first year in the 4-H program, designed to help young children build self-confidence and get an early experience in agriculture.
“It’s a tradition to come here every every year,” Andrea said.
The pair planned to walk through the horse barns and visit some of the animals Friday, but said they would likely be back Sunday for most of the day. For Sophia, the highlight of the day was seeing the chickens and the rabbits on display.
Near the horse barns, students were lining up for a randomly assigned number before competition was scheduled to begin in the evening. During events like the barrel races, the pattern run by the horses leaves ruts in the field, so random numbers for the students to compete makes the event fair, said Jim Stouffer, a parent and an adviser for the program.
The events are a big draw at the fair, and typically involve between 200 to 225 horses each year, Stouffer said.
“If you want to see horses run fast, that’s what we’re going to be doing,” Stouffer said.
Betsy Kite, also an adviser and parent, said organizers are trying to find new events and activities to recognize the students each year. Many of the students are involved in several events throughout the week.
“The kids are really involved outside of horses also,” Kite said.
While Friday was the first day of the fair, Saturday will be a better indication of what size of crowds to expect, said Ron Huffman, a volunteer helping sell meals at the Cable United Methodist Church building.
The church has sold breakfast and other home-cooked meals at the fair for 54 years, and all proceeds benefit the church. Judging from previous years, Huffman said he’s expecting big crowds as long as the weather remains cool.
“When it’s hot, snow cones do well,” he joked. “When it’s cool we do good.”