Paul Weaver addresses the crowd.

Unlike the last newspaper I worked for — a local daily — I no longer have to spend very many evenings on assignment.

The evening of April 17 was an exception, and one that I valued.

I spent that night covering the groundbreaking of the new fairgrounds and agriculture exposition center in Holmes County, on the western end of Millersburg.

It’s encouraging to see any county invest in its agriculture and youth programs, but especially a county that has struggled through so much. The people and farms in the county are strong, and they rank very high in Ohio for crop and livestock production. But for as long as I can remember, they’ve never had a good place to hold their fair nor large-scale shows.

The biggest problem with the current fairgrounds has been flooding, because of being located in a flood plain next to the Killbuck Creek.

Close to home

I grew up in the school district that encompasses western Holmes County — West Holmes — and it seemed like every year, it was a guessing game as to whether you’d need a four-wheel drive to get in and out, and whether the buildings would hold up from the previous year’s flood.

The attendance at the fair has increased over the years, and board members have worked to bring some new entertainment. But the potential has never really been reached, because the flooding and mud prevent people from coming, and prevent events from being held their year-round.

The way things are headed, those days could be over in as little as two-three years.

Opportunity abounds

Officials broke ground on a property that was partly donated, and they hope the grading and building will continue to completion.

They’re looking at about 100,000 square feet of conditioned exhibit space, which would include a multi-purpose exhibit hall. In addition, the property offers many advantages — most importantly it is higher in elevation and out of the floodplain — but it also is an attractive place with some hills, some older trees and a large, historical barn.

The project has already garnered $1.4 million in donations, and it will take much more to see it to completion. There are some great building and landscape companies in Holmes County and I’m confident they will build on the natural beauty of the property and make it a place to showcase the county’s best.

Right now, several of the “Holmes County” shows are held in nearby counties or not held at all, because there is not a suitable place or infrastructure to have the events within the county.

The area is a leader in Amish tourism, furniture production and agriculture, and is home to thousands of hunting and outdoors enthusiasts. A facility to house trade shows for these events will do so much.

Support

I was impressed Tuesday night, by the depth of speakers who took the podium. It just seemed like one after the other, they had enlightening things to say about this project, and it showed how widespread the interest really is.

Paul Weaver, who donated the land in a partnership, may have said it best: “Everything that we’re going to do here is for the sole purpose of helping people and adding value to Holmes County, and the people who come to visit us.”

He was talking about the fair, but also a church that is being built on the property, and the events that will be held there year-round, including a local charity called Share-A-Christmas.

Rural Ohio

I also liked what Ohio Agriculture Director David Daniels had to say. He talked about the similarities between Holmes County, and his native Highland County, noting that both are very rural places with a strong focus on youth.

Daniels said he hopes the new facilities will help youth “have the same opportunities in 4-H and FFA that I had — to build their character, to understand agriculture (and) to understand the business.”

I think that’s everyone’s hope with this property and its vision — to be a benefit to the youth, and to showcase the things the county is known for. I look forward to seeing it come together and reporting on its progress.

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties.
Chris Kick
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