Spirited effort to clear damage preserves 170-year-old tradition
By Carol DeMare, Staff Writer – Friday, September 2, 2011
FONDA — For 170 years, the Fonda Fair has gone on as scheduled, attracting those from the surrounding farm communities as well as outsiders who come for the food, the rides, the entertainment and even the monster trucks. This year, Tropical Storm Irene and the Mohawk River got in the way, delaying the opening by two days. But even the onslaught of floodwaters couldn’t make this popular fair a wash-out. Fair-goers and exhibitors alike — all of them fair lovers, of course — came to the rescue. They cleaned the 60-plus acres of the Montgomery County fairgrounds over more than two days, doing what amounted to grunt work.
On Thursday, as he drove around the property in a golf cart, past the numerous amusement park rides, the cotton candy stands, the barns with the livestock and horses, the junk cars that the monster trucks would go to work on, the huge arena where Kellie Pickler will perform Saturday night, no one could be prouder of how it all came together than fair president Richard Kennedy. Officially, the gates opened Thursday at 5 p.m., and the fair will run through Monday. The seven-day event originally was scheduled to open Tuesday.
This year’s fair theme is “American Made, American Pride,” Kennedy said. “And the pride is showing through,” added the owner of a horse and dairy farm in Fort Plain. Hundreds of volunteers, some from as far as Lake George, converged on the fairgrounds Tuesday morning.
The Mohawk runs alongside the fairgrounds and Fonda Speedway, which are adjacent to each other — actually, the fairgrounds owns the speedway and leases it out. On Sunday, the river, fueled by water from the Schoharie Creek, overflowed its banks and Kennedy was taken in a sheriff’s boat to assess the damage. That was at 7 a.m. and by noon that day, the water was down by 2 feet.
As soon as the locks opened, the water dramatically receded and by Tuesday morning, it was 90 percent dry, Kennedy said. The Cook family of Bleecker, Fulton County, had smiles Thursday as they walked around a clean fairgrounds, not far from their stables where they will show eight of their 12 horses from their “hobby farm.” Ron “Chip” Cook, 44, and his wife, Becky, 41, along with children David, 11 and Bethany, 18, were all involved in the cleanup. Three other daughters, Abigail, 15, Moriah, 14, and Sarah, 12, also deserve credit, their mother said.
Everyone shoveled out stalls, pressure-washed the walls and disinfected everything, the parents said. The kids — all are members of the 4-H — cleaned and painted the poultry barn where they will exhibit their rabbits. “This has been our family vacation for years,” the father said. “We look forward to it.” “It’s an agricultural fair,” he said. “It’s all family down here, not blood-related but family.” In years past, some 70,000 to 80,000 turned out over the seven days of the fair, Kennedy said.
The flood ruined equipment in the four concession stands at the speedway, concession manager Randy Yurkewecz said. At 6 foot 2, he was removing food from freezers as the water rose to his chest and he was told to get out. The 49-year-old Yurkewecz said a flood in 2006 also destroyed equipment in the concession stands, but the track still stands, and the resilience of the speedway workers will come through again. There will be races Sept. 17 and the 24, Yurkewecz said.
Kennedy, who also is a territory manager/equine nutritional consultant for Cargill Animal Nutrition, is in his 11th year on the fair’s board and sixth year as president. He was around for the 2006 flood as well. This time, he told the eight to 10 superintendents of the fair to get the word out a massive cleanup would begin at 8 a.m. Tuesday and he needed volunteers. The local newspapers and radio stations also put out the word.
By 8 a.m. 100 to 150 volunteers had showed up, including the Mohawk Fire Department with a pumper truck and high-pressure wash for the buildings. “It took them 12 hours and it would have taken us two weeks,” Kennedy said. “The volunteers shoveled and swept and carried tables and chairs out of buildings.”
Students showed up to work, he said, including the great-grandchildren of Mike Scott, who was a fair director and dairy farm and the legend for whom Scott Hall is named. Eileen Douglas, 68, a dairy farmer from Fort Plain organized the clean-up and then the setting up of exhibits at the Agricultural Awareness Building. Her 12-year-old granddaughter Alexis Douglas was helping set up Thursday.
“I sincerely believe the public needs to know where their food comes from … and that it’s safe,” said Douglas, who’s been exhibiting at the fair for 40 years. “Agriculture puts the roof over your head, the food on your table and the clothing on your back.” Her daughter, Sandy Douglas, 48, also of Fort Plain, helped with the cleaning. As soon as Route 5S was open for travel, “we were here,” she said. Her first reaction to the mess left by the flood waters was, “It was overwhelming.”
Reach Carol DeMare at 454-5431 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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