GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Workers on the midway cringed every day when Evan Mayo came to the Clay County Agriculture Fair because they knew they were about to lose another giant stuffed animal at …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Workers on the midway cringed every day when Evan Mayo came to the Clay County Agriculture Fair because they knew they were about to lose another giant stuffed animal at the shooting gallery.
Mayo came from Pensacola to break the monotony of seclusion that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. Once he got to the fair, he decided to stay a week – and clean out the top carnival game prizes.
“I came to the fair seven days,” Mayo said as he walked to the parking lot with a four-foot-tall stuffed dog riding on his shoulders. “I had a lot of fun. I love the games. I’m really good at shooting. They only let me win one a day, but that’s all right. We had so much fun.”
Mayo wasn’t the only one. According to fair general manager Tasha Hyder, a record 148,000 people attended this year’s fair. It broke the 2019 record of 135,000 and followed 2020’s cancellation for the pandemic.
“It felt great to bring back some normalcy to our community this year,” Hyder said after the 11-day fair ended on April 11. “It was the best feeling to see people smiling and having fun again. The most important thing about our fair is that it was a safe event.”
Hyder worked with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, health department and emergency management for a year to create a protocol that not only assured fun, but kept visitors safe. While masks weren’t required, visitors were “strongly” encouraged to wear them. There were hand sanitizing stations and reminders of social distancing posted throughout the property.
The health department also offered free COVID-10 vaccinations
“The entire event was ever-changing,” said Director of Emergency Management John Ward. “We knew we were going to have a lot of people coming to it. Things went very good. It was busy, but good.”
Three of eight nightly concerts were sold out, including Vanilla Ice, Scotty McCreery and JJ Grey and Mofro. Attendance records for a Sunday (April 4) and Monday (April 5) also were broken.
“Our midway numbers were up and our gate was up,” Hyder said. “We expected a big crowd, but not nearly 20,000 over 2019.”
Hyder said her switch to a diverse concert lineup will continue in 2022, as well as refining plans for improvements.
“This was our best fair yet, but we made a list of things we want to improve next year,” Hyder said. “We are always working to get better every year. We pride ourselves on being the safest place to be in Clay County for 11 days.”
Hyder invited guests to provide feedback at claycountyfair.org.
Fairgoers, which included Governor Ron DeSantis and his family on opening day, clearly were impressed. Most said the level of preparation created an entertaining – and relaxing – atmosphere.
“It felt good being outside after being stuck at home with COVID for the last year,” Nesha Johnson said. “I felt 100% safe. I loved it and my kids were so happy here.”
Orange Park’s Troy Savage missed not being able to attend last year’s fair.
“I’ve looked forward to this for a year,” he said. “I was so excited to get out of the house.”
“They had a lot of cool stuff,” Amy Savage said. “We met a lot of new people. Everything was awesome.”
In addition to providing an economic boost to the county, the fair played a significant roll is helping needy residents. The fair worked with Winn-Dixie to collect 3,500 pounds of canned goods and nonperishable food for the Food Pantry of Green Cove Springs. The fair also donated 500 bales of leftover hay to CJ Acres Rescue Farm in Keystone Heights, and it collected $314,406 at the youth livestock auction.
Next years fair is scheduled for another 11-day run from March 31 to April 10.