LUMBERTON — Rain didn’t stop the opening of the 70th annual Robeson Regional Agricultural Fair on Thursday.
In fact, after a day of heavy rain, the sun came out just in time for a ribbon cutting marking the beginning of 10 days of amusement rides, carnival food, livestock judging, chain saw cutting contests and more.
“This is Disney World for a lot of people. That’s not a bragging type thing,”said Allen Faircloth, president of the fair board. “We know, with the poverty rate that the county has and the socio-economic status it has — for a lot of people, this is a Disney World. So we take a lot of pride in that.”
Although spotty rain is in today’s forecast, the sun will be shining through the weekend, when temperatures will be in the mid-80s and then begin a gradual decline into the mid-70s for all of next week.
During the opening ceremony, Sen. Jane Smith, a Democrat who represents Robeson, read a proclamation that included the fair’s history. The fair began in 1947 and was organized by the Lumberton Jaycees, many of whom had recently returned home after fighting in World War II. The first fair was a one-day event held in a tobacco warehouse and drew about 10,000 people. It now attracts about 100,000 people each year, Smith said.
The current fairgrounds were built in 1975 and include 125 acres, three exhibit buildings, grandstands, a paved midway, and a motor sports track, Smith said. It provides more than $28,000 in prize money for livestock exhibits and has won the best county fair in the state seven times, Smith said.
The rain did force the cancellation of the High School Band Explosion but by late Thursday afternoon, people were making their way through the damp fairgrounds under mostly blue skies. Although some carnival rides were moving, most people appeared to be more interested in the food the fair offered than rides. Food vendors’ wares ranged from corn dogs to deep fried Oreos, collard sandwiches and corn on the cob, red velvet funnel cakes and more. Other vendors had their booths open and prepared to sell T-shirts and other memorabilia.
Between free tours for children in schools, specific days designated for the special needs community and for elderly residents, about half of the admission tickets people use are free. It’s important, Faircloth said, to show children farm animals so they begin to have an understanding of how food gets to the table at home.
“We call it barnyard tours. Kindergarten kids are invited out free,” Faircloth said. “They get to go through and see all the animals so see where milk comes from and where scrambled eggs come from. We take a lot of pride in that.”
Cherie Berry, state commissioner of Labor, helped mark the opening of the fair by assuring fair-goers the carnival rides are safe. Among other duties, her department oversees safety inspection of carnival rides.
“I’m so proud of our ride inspectors. They have been here trying to get all of these rides ready for you to enjoy,” Berry said. “They check every nut, every bolt, every safety harness, every lap bar, every shoulder harness — everything to 100 percent of the manufacturers’ specifications top rate.”
Berry said the state has the best ride inspection program in the U.S.
“Other states come and follow us around some times to try to figure out how we do it in North Carolina,” she said said.
Berry cautioned riders to follow the rules of each ride and not stand up during a ride. She also asked parents to make sure their children meet the height specifications for each ride.
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-416-5865.