The numbers are in.
The Nevada County Fair released attendance numbers this week and there are no easy conclusions as paid attendance fell for the fourth consecutive year, while overall attendance jumped by 11,000 from last year to this year.
“We are very pleased with the performance of the fair this year,” said Sandy Woods, CEO of Nevada County Fairgrounds.
The 2013 incarnation of the local fair was at the center of a storm of controversy as fair organizers’ decision to include elephant rides by Have Trunk Will Travel in the circus-themed fair embittered a segment of the community and outraged animal rights advocates.
Those opposed to the inclusion of the animal rides claimed the pachyderms were subjected to mistreatment and were not intended for domestication.
Fair officials said the animals were treated well and did not waver in their decision to offer elephant rides, despite fair board meetings featuring outraged attendees.
The release of numbers that showed 51,914 people paid to enter the fairgrounds in 2013 — a decline of about 2,300 visitors from 2012, when paid attendance registered at 54,280 — caused those opposed to the elephant rides to attribute the downward trajectory to obstinate officials who ignored the protests of the community (see Other Voices column by Shelley Frost, page A4).
Woods disagreed with the characterization, saying paid attendance declined due to a decision to grant free admission from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Overall attendance jumped to 93,134 visitors in 2013, up from 82,220 visitors in 2012, she said.
“It was part of the business plan this year to just get people on the grounds to spend money on the carnival rides, the food venues run by nonprofits and to infuse money back into the local economy,” Woods said. “That was the business plan. All the money spent on the grounds ... the fair picks up a percentage.”
Immediately following the fair’s conclusion, Woods said the fair attracted big numbers over the weekend, not only despite, but due to, the elephant ride controversy, which received a lot of play on regional media outlets.
Woods said the fairgrounds is looking to move beyond the controversy and concentrate on another signature event set to begin at the end of next week — the 2013 Draft Horse Classic.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4239.