Future fair fun: New and update attractions helped fair attendance

ONTONAGON — What better way to spend a summer weekend than a trip to the fair to enjoy deep fried treats, cute farm animals, competitions and taking a spin on a carnival ride?

The Ontonagon County Fair has seen dwindling participation in recent years, only to abruptly reverse course this year with a surge in attendance.

In fact, last weekend saw an estimated three times the typical number of people, said Ontonagon Fair Board member Bethany Jolliff.

“I just want to thank everybody that came out, there were a ton of faces I’ve never seen at the fair before,” Jolliff said.

The surge in interest and attendance is likely thanks to this year’s carnival, which hasn’t been part of the fair for at least a decade.

“My oldest son is 18 and I don’t recall ever having a carnival there in his life,” she said.

The small fair has historically had a difficult time getting a carnival but were surprised by an offer from the newly formed Tri State Carnival company. Jolliff was pleased with how nice the carnival crew was.

The fair would like to have them return next year driving up interest in participation in other events like the poultry and exhibit barns which suffered a drop this year.

The fair is also looking to add more evening events on Friday and Saturday, perhaps a band or lawnmower race, Jolliff said.

The fair saw other improvements at the Mud Run, put on by the Mountain Lions Club, where a new and vastly improved mud run was put to use for the first time.

Racers had traditionally had issues with the deeper mud pit causing damage to vehicles. Not the case this year, all racers were making it through with an appropriate amount of mud flying in all directions.

“It’s good stuff, I like this pit better than the old pit. Much better. You can actually run through it. With the old one…you couldn’t get any time out of it. It was just too deep,” said contestant and eventual winner Al Turin.

Repeat racer Paul Kochan was also pleased with the change. He keeps coming back to compete with friends, winner takes all — the bragging rights at least.

Attendance was way up, with the Mountain Lions walking away with around $300 in funds raised, the first time ever for the organization which typically just raises slightly more than breaking even, said treasurer Dean Juntunen.

Perhaps disappointed by the lack of trapped machines, a few racers concluded the race by making a run at the old pit. The two machines promptly got stuck and had to be pulled out via front loader.

Adding to the amusement, a truck and a mountain biker also made a run at the new pit with mixed results.

“This is just a lot of fun, we had a good crowd watching,” Juntunen said.

This year’s winners were Mike Kirtland in the ATV 501-900 class and Andy Stoeckel in the 700-and-under class. In the UTV class, Al Turin came in first closely followed by John Rowley with Paul Kochan and James Thomas tying for third.

In the 701-and-up class, Al Turin again took first followed by Paul Kochan and John Rowley.

An impromptu shootout resulted in the victory of Paul Kochan.

The new event this year was the Ninja Run, sponsored by the Aspirus Ontonagon Hospital. In the spirit of the TV show Ninja Warrior, contestants raced through an obstacle course including monkey bars, finger crawling and bale jumping.

There were both men’s and women’s classes and a modified kids course as contestants raced to cheers and disappointed “oh’s” from spectators.

“My brother, he’s like ‘you’ve got to get in.’ I’m like ‘alright’. So I had a beer or two and said, ‘let’s do this.'” said second place winner Cole Wash.

Wash was thrown off by the finger crawl towards the end of the course like the other contestants. Only first place finisher Mark Musgrave, a 14-year-old, passed by using the top of the structure which other contestants objected to.

The idea for the course was from Alan and Debera Kaikko, owners of Kaikko Construction Inc. and replaces a less well attended walk/run. The Kaikko’s intend to add a few new obstacles and events for next year including teams and a curve wall.

“I’m hoping that it’s a plus for the fair and that we can make it grow and go from there,” said Debera Kaikko, who was timing the contest.

In the kids Ninja course, Noah Toolan took first and in the female division Kate Banister captured first.

In other fair competitions, Violet Amos was grand champion in calf showmanship, as was Lori Wardynski in yearling showmanship. Ryan Reaver was Grand Champion in both Rabbit and Poultry categories.

Hollie Sadlier took top exhibitor and Jenny Peters took first in the Cheesecake competition.

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