Opening ceremonies at Belmont Fair

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The 170th Belmont County Fair kicked off opening ceremonies Wednesday, with county leaders speaking about their experiences growing up with 4-H, adding that area youth are the focus.

The Belmont County Board of Commissioners held a brief regular meeting at the courthouse before heading to the fairgrounds for the ribbon cutting.

Commissioner Josh Meyer commended the Junior Fair Board, who visited the commissioners office two weeks prior.

“I was thoroughly impressed,” he said. “The fair is in good hands.”

This year’s speaker was Belmont County Commissioner J.P. Dutton, a Flushing native with a background in government, energy, and 4-H who spoke about how those early experiences shaped his life.

“I really love the Belmont County Fair. It’s meant a lot to me personally. I think it’s meant a lot to this county. This county has a long agricultural history and every year that should be celebrated,” he said. “It happens for the best of reasons, for the youth of Belmont County.”

He echoed Meyer’s comments about the Junior Fair board members.

“It was unbelievable the poise they had to stand up at our meeting and talk about what 4-H meant to them,” he said.

“I was in 4-H for about eight years or so and took an animal to the fair every year,” he said, adding that showing his animal was the culmination of months of work and practice. “(I remember) dreading that I was going to lose my animal in the rain while showing it, or any other myriad things that could possibly go wrong when you’re standing in front of people. … I think that’s one of the things these individuals are learning. To be able to present to strangers, to judges, to put themselves out in front of other people on something they put a lot of hard work in.”

Dutton reminded residents to visit the fair through Sunday and recognize the projects the youth have been working on, and to encourage family and friends to do the same.

“They are the future leaders of our county. There are some tremendous kids here,” he said.

Fair Board Member David Jones introduced the speakers and highlighted events through the week. He noted last year’s heavy rain took its toll on the final days of the fair, but said good weather is expected this week and the organizers are striving to make up for the loss this year.

“Last year, as many of you know, was not a very pleasant fair because of rain, but the Lord’s blessed us this year, and we appreciate that very much,” Jones said.

He said Wednesday’s events included a rodeo and performing hogs, while Thursday would have the livestock auction. Friday and Saturday night will feature a tractor pull, and bands will be performing through the fair.

Jones also thanked the inmates from Belmont Correctional Institute who provided close to 600 man-hours of work preparing for the fair.

“This fair is just not put on this week. It takes an entire year of hard work and planning, and I have the hardest-working board members anywhere,” Fair Board President Debbie Erlenbach said, adding that she intends to step down as president at the end of the year and was thankful for the opportunity to serve.

She said the area has much to be proud of. She spoke about how agriculture has changed since the first years of the fair, while the core values, such as involving young people and passing on good qualities, continued.

“I would like to commend the youth in our county. I have always said we have the best youth in the State of Ohio, and I truly believe that,” she said, adding that there are more than 550,000 4-H members in the state, with 750 in Belmont County, and 56 4-H members selected to participate at the state fair this year. “Our youth do such a great job of showcasing Belmont County when they do that.”

She said the 4-H youth ambassador program this year raised $22,000 for the Belmont County Relay For Life.

Numerous county officials were present for the opening ceremonies, along with visiting state leaders including a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio. Seventh District Court of Appeals Judge Carol Ann Robb and State Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction, were present, as well as representatives from the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The ceremony featured performances by the Union Local Marching Band.

The majority of the 4-H members were at the barns showing cattle, rabbits and poultry.