Water-loving dogs, a demolition-derby class for riding lawn mowers and deputies on bicycles will be among the new features at the 2014 Franklin County Fair, scheduled July 12-19 at the fairgrounds in Hilliard.
The Franklin County Sheriff's Office established a bicycle division in its patrol bureau about three months ago, and the Franklin County Fair will provide the perfect venue for its purpose, said Sgt. Dan Johnson, a 13-year veteran of the sheriff's office and supervisor of the eight-member bike team.
"Bikes can get a lot of places that our cruisers can't go, especially at a venue such as a fair," Johnson said.
Tactically, a bicycle patrol provides better crowd control, Johnson said, and for medical emergencies, it could provide invaluable extra seconds in reaching a victim.
"They get better gas mileage, too," Johnson said.
The bike patrol also facilitates public interaction.
"Sure, you can wave from a cruiser as you pass by, but it's more natural to stop and talk to someone when we're on a bike," Johnson said.
A schedule is yet to be finalized, but full-time members of the bike patrol will be on duty parts of each day and night of the eight-day fair.
"We will be there to meet the public and address any problems (and provide) security overnight," Johnson said.
Auxiliary deputies from the nonprofit Fraternal Order of Deputies Association also will be used at the fairgrounds.
Earlier this year, Sheriff Zach Scott announced the sheriff's office could not support staffing the fair with full-time deputies at previous levels because of dwindling attendance.
The sheriff's office and the fair board in April even appeared close to cutting ties, but they eventually reached an agreement for the sheriff's office to maintain its presence at the fair in a manner that allowed the office to maximize its resources.
"We will be providing a combination of regular and special-duty officers this year (and) will also have a tent," Chief Deputy Jim Gilbert said in April. "We will be scaling back, but we will be at the fair. ... We will participate in Safety-Services Day and serve as its primary protectors. All the staffing decisions will be based on projected attendance."
Christy Clark, executive director of Destination Hilliard and a member of the Franklin County Agricultural Society, said this year's attendance goal is 37,000.
Last year's attendance was 35,300, Clark said.
The record was 55,000 visitors in 2007, she said.
To boost attendance, Clark said, the fair board has worked hard to bring in new acts.
"The board has invested a lot of time and effort in marketing and bringing interactive activities to the fair," Clark said.
One of the new events will be DockDogs, a sanctioned event that will allow local dog owners to showcase the ability of their canines to jump and dive from docks into a pond.
"I'm really excited about DockDogs," Clark said. "The dogs are judged in a variety of events but the best thing about it is anyone (who lives in Franklin County) can enter their dog."
Also new this year will be a new class in the demolition derby: riding lawn mowers.
The Franklin County Fair traditionally concludes with an automotive demolition derby, and the new lawn-mower class has been added to the event.
The fair also will continue to feature such traditional events as the motocross and truck and tractor pulls.
"We think everyone will find something to like," Clark said.
The Franklin County Fair will open Saturday, July 12, and conclude Saturday, July 19.
Each of the eight days has a theme and admission discounts will be offered at specific times and dates for qualifying patrons.
Gates will be open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and the two Saturdays during fair week, and from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.
Daily admission will be $6. Advance tickets, available through July 11, will be $4. Student, senior and military discounts will be available.