Chapel Hill News

Orange County gathers ideas for future fair

Contests, farming demonstrations, and local food, culture and music are just a slice of what you might find at a future Orange County Fair.

An environmentally and economically sustainable fair with a local flair was the theme that emerged from Wednesday’s free-flowing discussion between a few dozen residents and county officials. It would be a celebration and an economic investment, county officials said.

People love Orange County’s homegrown flavor, said Laurie Paolicelli, executive director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.

“From a tourism standpoint, we see this every day. People come in and say, ‘Wow, I love the artists here, the musicians, the food,’” she said. “To put that on stage and call it an Orange County (fair) is really exciting.”

A county working group of staff members and commissioners Mark Dorosin and Renee Price met over the summer to start the conversation.

They concluded a centrally located fair might start as a two-day event in 2015. The budget would be worked out once the details are in place, but they wanted to get the public’s opinion before taking a report to the Orange County Board of Commissioners meeting Nov. 12. They’re also looking for ideas, community partners and volunteers.

Livestock judging is a traditional fair event but takes a lot of planning and resources, said Lauren Langley, an extension agent for Alamance and Orange counties. However, agriculture education and exhibits with one day of livestock demonstrations is doable, she said.

“You’re bringing stuff in. You’re doing it on a timetable. People know they can come at that time to do something with the animals, and then the animals get to go home,” Langley said.

Other ideas from the meeting: an antique car show, comedy classes and troupes, dancing, ethnic diversity, arts and literature, and a goal of being trash-free. A special area where people could share old photos and record their family stories and the county’s history also would be good, Chapel Hill resident Kirk Ross said. (Ross also is a Chapel Hill News columnist.)

Chapel Hill resident Mark Marcoplos shared a list of ideas for a down-home event with pony rides; food, arts and crafts judging; races; and even a beer tent with local brews.

“It doesn’t have to be figured out to start with,” he said. “Just get it together, get it going, and when you feel like you’ve got enough to get it going, make sure everyone who comes to the fair realizes their ideas can contribute to the next fair.”

The county’s 152-acre Blackwood Farm, at N.C. 86 and New Hope Church Road, emerged as the most appealing among multiple sites, with possible parking at New Hope Elementary and satellite lots. The site has water and electricity, but no restrooms. The house needs work, but several outbuildings are available.

Marcoplos suggested a community barn-raising to provide more shelter.

Dorosin said the county also might move up planned improvements to the site, including a new driveway off N.C. 86 that would give access to emergency vehicles and ride operators.

Ride operators aren’t likely to come unless it’s a three- to four-day event, said Geoff Hathaway of Time and Tide Productions.

Bands will need shelter in case of rain, he said.

Time and Tide runs the Hillsborough Jazz Festival, which started by bringing students and experienced musicians together. The fair is another way to showcase young talent, Hathaway said.

“You’ve got a lot of talent here with these kids that don’t get exposed like athletes do,” he said.