At last year’s Hartford Fair, construction of an access road to and from Bennington Chapel Road came down to the wire because of rainy weather and muddy conditions.
But the road – meant to relieve some of the fair’s daunting traffic – was just a preliminary version of itself.
This year, Fair Manager Larry Hughes says the “biggest little fair in the world” will be even more prepared. The fair is scheduled to run from Aug. 3-9.
“Last year, we got it done prior to the fair, and it worked out really great, but we had some washing in the ditches on each side of the road,” Hughes said.
“We did some grading on the banks on each side, and we’re seeding within the next week and putting in grass. It’s not washing any more since we put topsoil there; it’s in pretty good shape.”
A rainy summer has allowed for a test run, and Hughes said the road is responding well.
“We put in bigger rocks through the ditches on both sides, and I’m glad we did, with the rains we’ve had here this last month,” he said.
“It’s certainly helped keep the washing from going into the ditch and into the roadway.”
But even last year’s basic setup helped alleviate much of the traffic pressure that has plagued the fair for years, and Hughes said it drastically cut waiting times.
“It certainly helped the fair out 100 percent last year,” he said. “Instead of maybe a two - or 21/2-hour wait (to exit the fairgrounds), it was maybe 30 minutes last year after people realized.”
The key, however, was visitors realizing the exit change.
Because work was completed so close to the start of the fair, not everyone knew that the access road existed, and Hughes said it took some adjusting before traffic started flowing smoothly.
“The Licking County sheriff was very nice and helpful, and (deputies) were instructing people, ‘hey, if you want to go out this way,’ and people said, ‘oh, I didn’t know,’ ” he said. “One car would go and other would follow. That made it much easier.”
The response from visitors was clear.
“People would call us and say how much nicer it is that you can come to the fair and get out in a reasonable time,” Hughes said.
“You always expect to wait a while, but not two hours,” he said.
“They were happy to get out of there in 30 or 45 minutes, max, every night throughout the week. It was a great, great success.”