MILLERSBURG, Ohio — Over the past several decades, the Holmes County Fair Board and community have fought flooding at their fairgrounds in some form nearly every year.
In 2004, a major flooding event left behind several inches of mud and debris, and a taskforce of professionals was formed to find a solution for moving the fair. They experimented with dams and dikes, water diversion systems, and even filling low-lying areas.
But it all came down to one fact: The fair — located in a flood plain along the Killbuck Creek — needed a new home.
“In the end, it really did not take a host of experts telling us what we already knew going in. We needed to move,” said Kerry Taylor, president of the fair board.
He was among a host of dignitaries who broke ground for the new fair during a ceremony Tuesday evening — on property donated to the fair just west of Millersburg — at the intersection of state Route 39 and Township Road 301.
As he spoke, Kim Kellogg, president of the agriculture center board, pointed to the various features on the property — ridges and hills, a stream, some sycamore trees and even multi-flora rose bushes.
“This is truly Holmes County,” he told the 200 or so guests who attended. “Where you’re sitting or standing right now, will be the animal barn.”
To their left would be the show arena, and many other buildings around them, including a multi-use exposition center. Altogether, they hope to build about 100,000 square feet of conditioned exhibit space, Kellogg said. The property will total just more than 80 acres.
The project has a long way to go in securing funds and construction, but has already raised $1.4 million, said Project Coordinator Tom Wilke.
Included is the donation of the land — an 80-plus-acre gift by Weaver Leather chairman Paul Weaver. He donated the land in a partnership for running utilities to the property, which are now in place and also will be used by a new church called NewPointe Community Church.
Wilke will work with County Engineer Chris Young and other designers over the next several weeks, to complete the site plan and how the buildings will look.
Then comes the all-important step of sponsors and donations.
“We think it’s important for people to know how much it’s going to cost, what’s it going to look like — before we ask them to support us financially for this project,” Wilke said.
As the first shovels went into the ground, Wilke promised even bigger shovels will soon show up to begin the process of leveling and grading the land. The property has an elevation variance of up to 120 feet.
Leveling the worst areas will “make it more comfortable to walk upon and much more easy to build upon,” he said.
A large barn built in 1910 is located on the property, and officials hope to restore and move it to an appropriate place, so it can remain an historical part of the fair.
The county’s fair is a week-long event in August, and officials hope to move to the new grounds by 2013 or 2014. But officials are hopeful — now that they’re on stable ground — they’ll be able to attract many more events to the grounds, year-round.
The county is said to house the world’s largest Amish population and is a destination for tourists, Amish-made furniture and agriculture.
People come to the county to “see agriculture happening,” said Shasta Mast, director of the county’s Chamber of Commerce.
She expects the new buildings will provide an ideal facility for large-scale farm and trade shows — and bring new economic opportunity.
Paul Weaver — whose donation is making the project possible — talked about the value of community and the good-spirited things happening on the property.
“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 said.
It started with the construction of NewPointe Church, Weaver said, and will continue with construction of the first fair building — the William T. Baker Building.
That building will house supplies for a local charity event called Share-A-Christmas, which provides Christmas gifts and food to hundreds of families in need.
“A lot of good things happen when kids and their families work together on these projects,” Weaver said. “If we have a viable fairgrounds, we’re going to have events here all the time.”
Ohio Agriculture Director David Daniels compared the county and its project to what he grew up around in Highland County.
“I had the great fortune and the great opportunity to grow up in a community in southern Ohio very much like what you have here,” he said. “It’s rural and this is what rural Ohio is all about.”
He 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.”
The ground breaking ceremony was narrated by local broadcaster Mark Lonsinger, who operates an Internet-based media company called The Voice of Holmes County.
He had good things to say about all the speakers, but especially Taylor, who has helped lead the board through thick and thin.
“Despite many cloudy days along the way, this guy has never stopped looking for the sun, and he is finding it,” Lonsinger said.
He echoed the sentiments of other speakers — that the county has started something great and will need to support it as it matures.
Get involved: A formal capital campaign will begin by June. To donate, contact Wilke at email@example.com, or call 330-674-3955.