A young couple in a red four-door was driving away from the Delaware County Fairgrounds Thursday when, all of a sudden, they weren’t going anywhere.
Their tires spun, kicking mud in the air. Luckily, Tim Rick, a fair parking supervisor, had been passing by. He stopped his golf cart and, standing ankle deep in the muck, pushed on the car’s rear bumper. It was what Rick estimated to be his 40th vehicle rescue of the week. About 300 vehicles in all have become stuck throughout week, he said.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Donald Ward, a parking attendant sitting on a nearby folding chair adjacent to another muddy expanse (it used to be a grassy parking area.)
Steady rain and a persistently cloudy sky throughout the week converted grass to dirt and then to mud as cars drove over it, creating a challenge for people parking at the fairgrounds. Tractors and tow trucks were summoned Wednesday night to help pull out cars, trucks and livestock trailers, with Thursday night promising to be equally challenging.
“Getting those trailers in and out tonight could be fun,” said Laryssa Hook, 4-H extension educator.
However, the clouds parted and the sun poked through long enough Thursday to dry out the Little Brown Jug oval. Race organizers even issued a press release Thursday morning assuring the track, the fastest in the country, was in good shape for race time. And workers resurfaced the track between heats.
Along with better weather came larger crowds, according to fair workers. Usually the Jugette, Wednesday’s race, attracts nearly as many people as the main event on Thursday.
Not this year, said Jenny Manning, of Nelsonville, as she took a cigarette break from behind her counter at a bet taking station under the grandstands
“Today there’s a boatload of people,” Manning said. “But yesterday was horrible. The rain kept everyone away.”
“Hopefully the rest of the week will pick up,” she added.
Besides the Jugette, the rains hurt another equestrian event at the fairgrounds: 4-H horse contests. The equine versatility event that had been scheduled for Wednesday was instead held on Thursday. The contesting phase of the horse competition, where participants are timed while riding their horses around obstacles like barrels and cones, washed out last Tuesday and won’t be held at the fairgrounds this year, said Jon Melvin, who coordinates horse events for 4-H.
The conditions of the outdoor horse arena, which doesn’t drain nearly as well as the main racetrack, won’t allow it, Melvin said.
“The pens just aren’t dry enough, even today,” Melvin said as a horse and rider slogged through the mud. “It’s just not safe.”
And with more rain in the forecast for later in the week, organizers are moving the contesting events off-site for this Saturday at a private indoor horse arena owned by a 4-H parent, Melvin said. A day of non-competitive, recreational events that were to be held Thursday had to be cancelled completely.
Melvin, who has helped with the fair for 23 years, also said the conditions were the worst he has seen. He doesn’t recall having to cancel an event prior to this year.
“It’s been a wet year. But we’re doing what we can. The kids have been really patient, and so have the parents for that matter,” Melvin said.