Friday, May 4th, 2007
By Nancy Allen
Ribfest to be held at fairgrounds
  The first annual Mercer County Ribfest on May 12 is expected to attract 3,500 people to the fairgrounds and will be one of many fairground firsts since Manager Scott Riffle was hired a year ago.
Riffle, who was brought on board primarily to promote year-round use of the facility, spoke during Thursday morning's monthly agriculture breakfast meeting in Celina.
Riffle said the fair board wants to hold two major events at the fairgrounds per year. Last year was the first year for the first annual Mercer County Chili Festival, which will be held again in September, he said. The other major event will be the Ribfest, he said.
In addition to large community events, scheduling venues that attract young people to the fairgrounds and making the fairgrounds attractive are two main areas Riffle has been working on.
The grounds are very much improved," Riffle said. "We have been working with FFA chapters to do landscaping and improve the grounds and keep the flower beds nice," Riffle said. "We want to get kids here. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H and FFA kids who need to use the buildings, we won't charge them anything."
Some new events for youth that took place over the past year include the first Mercer County lamb sale, the first Mercer County calf sale and the first Mercer County FFA Invitational livestock competition. The livestock competition was a great success, attracting 262 kids from 34 schools, Riffle said.
Riffle and the fair board also are actively marketing the fairgrounds to campers. A year ago a brochure advertising the grounds as a camping destination was created and 4,000 were printed up.
The marketing has paid off. Between 2005 to 2006, the fairgrounds saw a 184 percent increase in camping, equating to $6,000 in additional revenue, he said.
Other improvements at the fairgrounds, many done with the help of countless youth and adult volunteers, include a new horse barn for harness racing horses, a new fence around the horse race track, the construction of a cement-sided manure holding structure, a septic leach system to handle rainwater runoff and the purchase and renovation of the former FOP building that is now available to rent for parties, meetings and other occasions.
Renovation of the cattle barn is expected to be complete soon and upgrades to the junior fair building are also planned, Riffle said. Improvements planned at the junior fair building include redoing the restrooms, making them handicapped accessible, and adding a drop ceiling, lighting and air conditioning.
Riffle said use of the junior fair building for events like flea markets, weddings and other events likely will increase once air conditioning is installed.
"You wouldn't believe how many times we get turned down for weddings at the junior fair building because it doesn't have air conditioning," Riffle said. "Once we get it done, I think we'll be able to do these kinds of things."
The next monthly agriculture breakfast will be 7:30 a.m. June 7 at the Mercer County Central Services Building, where Robert Boggs, newly-appointed director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture will speak.
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