Ledyard Fair entering a bittersweet 74th year

Ledyard — The members and volunteers of the Ledyard Fair Association have been working since last fall to put on this year's fair, opening Friday evening, but closing ceremonies on Sunday will be particularly bittersweet this year.

"I think the hardest part will be on Sunday, when we're bringing down the flag for the last time knowing that this is no longer our home," association President Loretta Kent said Thursday. "It's tearing at the heartstrings right now for a lot of us."

This is the last year the fair will be held in its current location, adjacent to Ledyard Center School on a property Kent noted many residents are more likely to call the fairgrounds than the town green. The school closed in June as part of the town's educational redistricting project, and the sale of the property to a developer was approved at a town meeting in May. The final vote was 206-31, with most opponents speaking at the public hearing on behalf of the fair due to the impact the sale would have on it.

The new owner allowed the fair to continue operations for this year; while most of the fair takes place on property that is still town-owned, some of the school property is used for parking and storage for vendors and competitors, as well as the softball tournament and tractor pull.

"The fair is more to us than just the fair. It's our family and it's a part of us," Kent said, adding that her kids and many children of other association members still actively are involved in volunteering. "Some took our passion for anger and it wasn't, it was just passion. We don't want to lose the fair."

The association is working with the town as well as area property owners to discuss options for hosting the event next year, though Kent noted that relocating the three-day event isn't as easy as it sounds. If they find a suitable property — she said they would need 12-15 acres — they would have to rebuild all the infrastructure, from the electricity to the barns and buildings used throughout the fair.

Nothing has been confirmed yet, but she said the hope is to have some options and answers ironed out by the end of the fall, though many of the vendors and entertainment acts book a year in advance and committees are often working on next year before the fair even closes.

"We're determined individuals, and we're hoping that we're going to find a property and we're going to come back bigger and better," she said.

In addition to the traditional agricultural shows and competitions, the rides and games, this year's fair will include Friday and Saturday shows by Real Shoot Wrestling, a West Virginia-based company that serves as a farm league of sorts for major wrestling leagues. Kent said she's seen a few shows, and the company has a lot of high-quality wrestlers who put on an exciting, action-packed show.

The fair also will be continuing the Queen of Hearts program as part of the Miss Ledyard Fair pageant, which the association started with last year's fair. Independent of the scoring, all participants in the pageant collect donations of nonperishable food and personal hygiene products to donate to the food pantry, which doesn't see as many donations during the summer months. Last year, contestants collected nearly 3,000 items, and Kent said many contestants this year asked about the donation component before they asked about registering for the pageant itself.

She said the fair is like hosting a big family reunion at her house. It's a lot of work and stress, but she loves seeing everyone come back every year and enjoying themselves, and she would do it again in a heartbeat.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

Ledyard Fair

What: 74th Ledyard Fair

Where: Ledyard Fairgrounds, 740 Colonel Ledyard Highway, Ledyard

When: 6-11 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $10 general admission, $5 for seniors and kids ages 11-17

More information: ledyardfair.org

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