With the 81st Columbia County Fair and Livestock Show set to kick off officially next week, event organizers and volunteers are prepping for the festival and its grounds in the final days leading up to the Sept. 17-22 spectacle.
On Wednesday, Columbia County Fair Association President and General Manager Sonya Caldwell sat down with Magnolia-Columbia County Chamber of Commerce Director Ellie Baker as a guest on the weekly local online chat show, Chamber Talk. In their morning, coffee-filled conversation, Caldwell outlined a guide to this year’s fair and livestock show, and informed the public of deadlines and rules for many of the county fair’s signature events.
For its yearly launch, the event’s parade down Main Street parade will commence, rain or shine, at 5 p.m. Monday. The route begins at Mac’s Grocery parking lot and travels west along Main, before the procession circles the Magnolia square near its finale. Cash prizes will also be awarded to the best floats.
“We have a registry online,” said Baker. “You can go to ColumbiaCountyArFair.com to register for the parade. You can’t be in any of the actual competitions for the floats unless you are registered for the parade. If you want to win some money… then you need to get in the entry.”
Two categories exist for the parade: Commercial and Non-Commercial. First place for each float winner is $200, while second and third place winners will receive $100 and $75, respectively.
That evening, the Miss and Junior Miss Columbia County Fair Queen contests will take place under the grounds’ pavilion. The pageants serve as not only a way to showcase contestants’ personal charisma and attributes, but cash prizes, just as with the parade and most other fair contests, are available for the winners.
“Our miss contestants, ages 17-21, [are] eligible for a $2,000 scholarship to SAU, plus a $1,000 cash prize,” said Caldwell. “To me, as a college student, that would be a pretty big deal.”
The winner of the Miss Columbia County Fair Queen Pageant will also advance to the state’s pageant, with the possibility to win even more prize and scholarship awards down the line. Fair Queen contestants must be enrolled at Southern Arkansas University, be a resident of Columbia County, or currently reside in the county.
“It’s a pretty good deal for a college student,” Caldwell added.
For younger girls, two new categories this year have been added. The Teeny Miss (2 year-olds) and Young Miss (ages 8-9) will accompany the remaining Baby Miss (0-11 months), Toddler Miss (12-23 months), Tiny Miss (3 years), Little Miss (ages 4-5), Petite Miss (ages 8-9), and Pre-Teen Miss (ages 10-12) contests. Registration forms for all pageants will be taken until end of day, Friday, Sept. 14. Jennifer Daniel, at 870-914-0961, is the pageant organizer and contact point for entries.
Caldwell added that one pageant category is seeking more entrants.
“We do need Junior Miss contestants, 13-16 years old,” she said. “They [can] win a $100 cash prize.”
The livestock show portion of the Columbia County Fair is also one of the most prominent and largest contests annually. In the event, prize-worthy animals range from large show steers, heifers, cows, and bulls, to swine, rabbits, poultry, goats, sheep, and more. And again this year, a unique and memorable presentation will also take place.
“We’re going to have a special needs swine show Wednesday morning,” Caldwell said. “We did that last year. The Magnolia FFA and the Magnolia FFA Booster Club put that on, and it was a huge hit last year. The kids just had the best time.”
The special event is slated to begin Sept. 19, between 8:30 to 9 a.m.
Daytime events such as the animal show are not rare for the fairgrounds. The annual Senior Day program will be Tuesday, Sept. 18, at 2 p.m. Last year, the crowd under the pavilion was treated to singing, door prizes, free medical emergency tips, and a generally relaxed environment specializing in senior-oriented events.
“Come out for Senior Day,” said Caldwell. “There will be games, exhibits, entertainment, and snacks.”
Local schoolchildren last year were also treated to tours of the grounds and animal exhibits throughout the week.
For other contests, including the arts and crafts shows, registrations can be performed online at the fair’s website. The prompt final prompt may ask for a checkout, but no fee is required for the art and craft exhibits. In-person item registrations will also be performed today and tomorrow, at the fairgrounds, from 4 to 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 15-16, from 1 to 4 p.m.
“We know that not everybody has access to a computer or is computer savvy,” added the fair association president.
Outside of the exhibit halls, the primary grounds, as usual, will be filled with local food vendors, along with rides, carnival games, and exhibits that are traditional associated with the county fair. Aside from the expected cotton candy, candy apples, peanuts, and funnel cakes, a few new items this year will be on the menu.
“One of the local churches is doing fried pies [this year],” Caldwell said.
As is typically the case, most food vendors at the Columbia County Fair are staffed and set up exclusively by local nonprofit organizations.
The carnival company providing the rides for the fair is also expected to set up a food truck, selling rarer, slightly more unique, state fair-esque deep fried deductibles such as fried Oreos, fried Snickers bars, fried Twinkies, buckets of french fries, and pizza-by-the-slice.
“We have people that pay to come through the gate, just for the food,” Caldwell added.
Carnival rides are also a huge a part of the fair. And although no armband passes for the rides are available on Monday night, the item will be ready the rest of the week for those desiring to climb aboard any ride on the grounds without paying for each trip.
On Tuesday night, armbands are $15, plus a $5 general admission ticket. On Wednesday, Sept. 19, and through Friday, Sept. 21, bands are $20, plus cost of admission. On Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., children will be waived of the general admission fee, and only be required to purchase an armband for unlimited rides.
For any more inquiries into any Columbia County Fair and Livestock Show, the fair associations above listed website contains all information needed. Its Facebook page, at facebook.com/ColumbiaCountyFairandLivestockShow/ is also updated daily. For a physical guide to the 81st annual fair, stop by the Banner-News offices on the Magnolia square and ask for a July 31 edition of the newspaper. Supplies, though, are limited.
In closing her morning conversation with Baker, Caldwell stressed how important and vital the people behind the scenes are in helping the event function and happen every year.
“We could not do what we do without the volunteers and sponsors,” she said. “…We are blessed.”