Sept. 25--There is something for everyone, young or old, at the 2016 Arkansas/Oklahoma State Fair, whether it's getting an adrenaline rush on one of the many rides, rocking out at a concert, stopping by one of the unique shows or vendor's tents, chowing down on fair food, or admiring livestock.
"I think that's something that really makes this event unique is that there's something for everyone. We want people to enjoy or see something here that they don't on a routine basis. We want people to come and enjoy themselves," explained Mike Looper, 2016 Arkansas/Oklahoma State Fair chairman and department head of the Department of Animal Science at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville.
Looper, who has been the chairman of the event for his fourth year, said "This is a labor of love. I love doing this. All of us here love doing this and giving back ... As with all fair chairmen in the past, this event is all about education, community by getting everyone involved, and it's about celebration and harvest, bringing in the best animals and crops ... as well as having a good time. It's a time to get together and celebrate in a a family-oriented environment."
Organizers of the 2016 fair said they want to see residents who usually attend return, and also want peak the interests of those who haven't come out to the event in some time. They've added new shows including Kachunga-The Alligator Show, Fire Stryker, a smoke and fire blowing, simulated dragon with wings which roams the venue, Hypnotist Kerry Sharp, as well as new vendors and concessionaires.
Fair-goers may notice a difference regarding the layout of the concessionaires.
Also new, "We've widened the walkways and alleys between the concessions and there's a lot of variety ... and we've purchased 10 picnic tables for people to sit at. The tables were purchased through Walmart associates at local Walmart stores that provided grants for the 10 picnic tables that are throughout the venue ... . It's all about community," Looper added.
Gate admission is $7 for those ages 12 and older, $4 for children 11-3, and free for two-years and younger. Ride tickets cost $26 for 30 rides. Those interested in attending armband night with unlimited rides must pay $24.
"We try to make it as affordable as we can... we want to give something back to those who come out in return for the money they paid to get into whether it was gate admission, parking and things like that," Looper said.
The economic impact of the event is huge, organizers said.
"During 2015, we actually broke the record for carnival receipts. That record held since 2009," Looper added.
He continued, "...We increased our gate admission by $1. So with that, those who come get everything in the park free (except food and vendor purchases) once inside the gates. All of the concerts put on by Los Humildes, Grupo Samuray Los Guerreros Del Amor, Back In Black AC/DC Tribute, Old Dominion, Pop Evil, Kachunga- The Alligator Show, Hypnotist Kerry Sharp and Fire Stryker are all included in the admission cost," Looper explained.
Looper added, "Given that, I think that's something that's resonated with the community during the past few years... and we feel like the community is supporting us. We really try to give something back because we realize that everyone who attends can choose where they want to go, but they come here, and want everyone here at the fair having a good time."
There are many important factors that play into the big idea of the fair. One of the most important factors regarding the fair is the education component, organizers said.
"... It's an education component from a livestock standpoint. Wednesday, we will have the Arkansas CW Feeding Hope Day. Gate admission will either be $1 or free if a person brings at least one non-perishable food item or canned item," Looper said.
Anyone interested in contributing to the Arkansas CW Feeding Hope Day on Wednesday will need to go to the fair between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. for the discounted entrance fee.
Employees with Arkansas CW along with fair and Walmart associates are joining efforts to raise the items for local food pantries.
In addition to education, the event is centered around community involvement. Many residents of Arkansas and Oklahoma said they like to get involved by hosting vendor's booths.
Scentsy Independent Director Debra LaRue of Crawford County said she has had a vendor's booth at the fair for six years.
She said she began doing this six years ago at the Crawford County fair.
"Two days after that fair, I was asked to come to the Fort Smith fair. So, I came here and my family has been very supportive," LaRue said. "My two sons will help me with displayed and the bar racks... this is a family effort for us. They really enjoy getting involved and so does my husband. They come help me set up and come and help me tear everything down," she added.
LaRue, who has five grandchildren, said her grandchildren also enjoy helping her with and visiting her at the event.
LaRue said she continues to host a booth at the fair each year because of her customers.
"My customers continue to come back every year .. they come to see me and my booth is family-friendly," LaRue explained.
Her customers drive from all over the greater Fort smith area to shop at her booth, she said.
"The ones who show every year know I am going to be here. They look forward to coming here to see me.
Her booth is welcoming, allowing customers to shop behind the counter and smell and see the large variety of products, first-hand. Customers said they love her fall scents including the Cinnamon Bear, Pumpkin and Vanilla, to name a few, and many of her customers said they are already preparing for the Christmas holiday by purchasing Christmas scents, as well.
"I had a young lady Saturday afternoon who had a $20 bill and came and bought a warmer (Scentsy product) for her mom for Christmas," LaRue said.
Local students also get to enjoy the fair during school field trips.
"I love that. I love seeing all of the kids," LaRue said. "They'll run around and say, 'There's the smell-good lady,'" she explained while laughing.
LaRue's Scentsy booth is set up in the Expo Center at the fairgrounds for nine days. She said she will be at the event until Saturday Oct. 1, the last day of the fair.
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