PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — An estimated 28,000 people passed through the gates of the Northern Maine Fair in Presque Isle last week, a number which organizers said Thursday was equal to last year’s crowd at the popular fete.
Andy LeBlanc, president of the fair, said that while officials always hope for growing attendance, he said that organizers were happy with this year’s numbers.
“With the economy the way it is, money is still tight for a lot of people,” he said. “But people are still stepping up and supporting us big time, and that’s really great to see. I also think that the changes we put in place this year had a positive impact as well.”
The 156th annual event ran from July 30 to Aug. 7 and was packed with activities, including new pageants, rides, music and contests.
The event, which has an annual budget of $800,000, is wildly popular and draws visitors from throughout Maine and the rest of the United States. On average, an estimated 30,000 fair-goers, exhibitors and volunteers flock to the fair each year.
LeBlanc said that the fair attracted a number of new sponsors this year and organizers altered the program to keep a good balance of old and new events. The staples of the fete — the midway, truck and tractor pulls, harness racing, demolition derby and horse shows — all returned this year and were as popular as always, he said.
Some of the new features, including Rods, Rides and Relics, a two-day transportation show that featured antique cars, trucks, muscle cars, antique snowsleds and more, also drew crowds, as did the first Northern Maine Fair Pageant. It was open to girls ages 5 to 15 who competed in three age divisions.
At least one cooking contest was held each day of the fair, and LeBlanc said that the popular princess and pirate parties, where children dressed in costumes, remained thrilling to children and parents.
Olde McDonald’s Farm and its livestock returned this year with a larger variety of animals.
“We definitely saw more traffic at the farm,” he said. “That is always a difficult event to schedule because it’s hard to find people who can bring their animals up here for nine days, but we had a great event this year.”
The historical pavilion also was open this year, showcasing local history through exhibits of antique equipment and through demonstrations focusing on weaving, rug braiding, wood burning and more.
Mya O’ Neal attended the fair on its closing weekend for the first time with her three children, Eric, 12, Quinn, 10, and Kiera, 7. The family from Montpelier, Vt., was in Caribou visiting family when they accepted an invitation to the event.
“We usually come to visit in the fall, but we had a change of plans this year so we got here as the fair was taking place,” said O’ Neal. “I can’t believe all of the things there are to do here. We’ve been here for four hours already and my two boys have been busy at different events the whole time.”
O’Neal said that the family had attended the white Bengal tiger show, watched the lumberjack roundup and rode “nearly every ride here.”
Karen Clark of Presque Isle also was at the fair that Saturday with a group of friends.
“We have some friends who are taking part in the Battle of the Bands,” she said, adding that she has attended the fair ever since she was a child growing up in Caribou. “Each year they have something new and interesting, and it doesn’t cost a lot, so it makes it really worthwhile.”
This was also the sixth year that the Northern Maine Music Festival was part of the fair. Each night in the Music Hall on the fairgrounds, a different genre of music was featured. LeBlanc said that those performances also were well-attended.
“Overall, I think it was an awesome time,” he said.