SPANISH FORK — Moving the Utah County Fair back to the Spanish Fork Fairgrounds resulted in a tremendous increase in participation in both exhibits and attendance, fair officials say.

"People were excited it was in Spanish Fork," volunteer open-class coordinator Belva Park said.

Admission to the fair, held earlier this month, was free, except for the demolition derby, which was the first entertainment event to make money in years, co-chairman Jay Harmer said. The fair also took a percentage from vendors and the carnival. Final dollar figures aren't in, Harmer said, but the demolition derby took in some $40,000 at the gate. Tickets ranged from $5 to $8.

Attendance was about 30,000, Harmer said. However, Park said that topped Thanksgiving Point last year, where attendance reached about 23,000.

Open-class exhibits numbered about 1,000, more than twice as many as the previous fair, she said. That included horticulture, floriculture, creative arts, fine arts, foods and canning, photography, quilts, small animals and others.

Apparently more south Utah County people are garden enthusiasts than in the northern part of the county, said Adrian Hinton with the University State University Agriculture Extension office. In 2007, when the fair was in its final year at Thanksgiving Point, Hinton saw only about 50 entries. However, this year during the four-day run in August he saw 211 entries in the vegetable category, 62 fruit entries and 35 flower entries. Some 75 percent of the entries were from south Utah County, he said. However, Best of Show prizes went to growers from Alpine and Orem.

"We had a lot more enthusiasm from the mMaster gGardener group," he said.

Master gGardeners are folks the agricultural extension office trains as assistants. That group submitted 56 entries. County-provided prize money totaled nearly $1,000, Hinton said.

The horticulture division used its Terry the Talking Tomato for the first time this year. The giant robotic tomato is more commonly used in extension office field days with elementary students. However, at the fair it attracted an estimated 2,800 kids as it talked about the benefits of growing and eating tomatoes, Hinton said.

Youngsters with the 4-H program turned in 2,916 exhibits, 67 more than last year, Joleen Bunnell, who heads up that program, said. The exhibits were the result of projects the kids have worked on over the past year, she said.

Animal exhibits were also up and for the first time in about a decade the fair held horse shows. Thanksgiving Point doesn't have an arena, Bunnell said.

Previous to holding the fair at Thanksgiving Point it was at then-Utah Valley State College. The fair left Spanish Fork in 1998 after a dispute between county commissioners and the Spanish Fork City Council over rent.

With the fair as a volunteer for 16 years, Bunnell said the event hasn't had the volunteer feel it had this year.

"That is what a fair is all about," she said. "It was so refreshing."

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