LOCKPORT – It has been at least 20 years since the Niagara County Fair featured a firefighters parade, but that tradition is being revived this year.
Organizers are hoping that every volunteer fire company and professional fire department in the county will send at least one piece of apparatus to parade at 4 p.m. Saturday, the second-to-last day of the fair.
“The county fire chiefs are the ones behind it, with this recruitment and retention drive the state fire service has got going on,” said Jeffrey Baes, deputy county fire coordinator and president of Terry’s Corners Fire Company.
“They’re really excited about it,” said Cathy Lovejoy Maloney, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County. That post also makes her director of the fair.
Maloney isn’t sure why the parade was stopped. She said that in the past, a fee was charged to fire companies to take part, and that might have had something to do with it. This year, there is no fee.
“We’re going to give it a year and see how it goes,” Maloney said. “We’re not really sure what the response is going to be.”
Baes said Wednesday is the deadline for fire departments to sign up for the parade. They can do so by calling him at 523-2181 or fellow deputy fire coordinator Jeffrey Dewart of Barker at 417-9110.
The fire trucks will assemble on Old Niagara Road near the fairgrounds at 3 p.m. Saturday, Baes said. That road and Lake Avenue in front of the fairgrounds will be closed for the parade.
By the time the parade is over, the beer tent on the fairgrounds, operated by Wrights Corners Fire Company, will be ready to open.
“I think that’s part of their strategy; it’ll be like a celebration,” Maloney said.
The beer tent, first opened in 2009 after much soul-searching by the organizers of what has always been a youth-oriented fair, will serve from 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Two local bands will perform in the tent: 90 West on Friday and Seventh Heaven on Saturday.
The fair opens at 8 a.m. Wednesday with the annual Farm-City Breakfast and continues until 6 p.m. next Sunday.
“It’s not a huge fair. Erie County is just an enormous fair,” Maloney said. In Lockport, she said, “everything is scaled down. It’s just a nice fair.”
Maloney said it’s one of only nine 4-H youth fairs left in the state. For many years, the county fair’s official name was Farm and Home Days and 4-H Junior Fair.
Almost all of the county’s roughly 400 4-H members will be exhibiting something at the fair.
“Many people still believe that’s the culmination of the year,” Maloney said.
That’s especially true of the boys and girls who bring livestock to the fair. This year’s specimens of the nine judged animal species will begin to arrive at the fairground’s animal pens Tuesday.
Many will be auctioned off, beginning at 5:45 p.m. Friday, at the 39th annual livestock auction.
More than 60 animals are expected to be sold, starting with meat birds and moving on to sheep, goats, beef and pork. Bidders range from people trying to fill their freezers to restaurants and meat packers.
This year’s speakers at the Farm-City Breakfast, Julie Blackman and Lisa Tucker, also are likely to talk about food.
Blackman, a Cambria resident, is a sixth-generation farmer who owns and operates the Farmers & Artisans local food store in Snyder. Tucker, who recently joined Cooperative Extension as an agricultural economic development and food systems educator, is owner and publisher of Edible Buffalo magazine.
“We kind of come at this subject of agriculture and the local food movement from two different perspectives,” Tucker said. While Blackman comes from farming roots, Tucker worked in finance for 13 years before starting Edible Buffalo seven years ago.
“I’m sort of the farm girl, and she’s the city girl with the city approach to it,” Blackman said.
Both see eye to eye on the importance of supplying local food to local stores and restaurants, and that’s the topic they’ll explore in their breakfast talk.
The breakfast, which is expected to draw about 600 people to the food tent, costs $7, with tickets available in advance and at the entrance.
Niagara County Community College is sponsoring the breakfast this year. “NCCC has really wanted to do something with the fair,” Maloney said.
The main entertainment stage is being moved near the food tent this year, in the center of the fairgrounds, instead of being off to one side. Maloney said they were trying to create “sort of a food court area. We’re hoping to dress it up a bit, make it more family-friendly, more fairgoer-friendly.”
A second, smaller stage will be set up in front of the Administration Building for performers who present a more intimate show, she said.
The lead entertainment for all five days will be K-9s in Flight, a touring trained dog show using animals rescued by animal activists. Another animal event will be a birds of prey show presented by Hawk Creek, an East Aurora bird sanctuary, next Sunday.
That replaces the Teddy Bear Picnic, a Sunday morning staple for years.
Another event dropped from the schedule was the Friday night fireworks, which were tried last year. But many of the regulars are back: the antique tractor parade Wednesday evening; the Thursday chicken barbecue with Cornell’s secret sauce; a “Play With Your Food” contest Friday; the amateur wine-making contest, being judged Friday at Freedom Run Winery in Cambria, with the winners announced at the fair Saturday afternoon; the Saturday night Paul Bunyan Contest and greased pole climb; and a toy tractor pedal pull and a classic car show next Sunday.
“We try to keep this formula of keeping things everybody likes and can’t live without, with some new things,” Maloney said.
Last year, about 28,000 people attended the five-day fair. Maloney recalled that the weather was good Wednesday through Friday, but Saturday was extremely hot, and a heavy thunderstorm struck Saturday night.
“Sunday morning was a wreck. Tents were blown over, and we had to let some of our vendors go home,” she recalled.
This year, admission is $3 for all, except children age 6 and under, who get in free.
Last year, the fair experimented with different prices on different days, and Maloney said people found it too confusing.
A five-day pass for $12 is available at the Cooperative Extension office. The schedule is online at www.cceniagaracounty.org.
“This is one of the largest events in Niagara County. We like to think it reflects the best of who we are and what we have to offer,” Maloney said.