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The lights of the Midway shine from the Lincoln County Fairgrounds during a previous fair. The Lincoln County Fair will kick off Saturday, Sept. 18, and run through Saturday, Sept. 25.

Ask Lincoln County Fair Executive Board President Dale Kent what he likes most about the fair and he will say “the carnival.”

There’s something about the sights, sound and smiles that keeps him coming back.

“To be honest, after you put all this time and hard work in down here and you come down to the Midway — you’re doing your job, checking on everyone and making sure everything is OK — and you see all the reactions and smiles on the kids’ faces, that’s priceless,” Kent said. “That goes to show you that all your hard work and dedication for this place has really paid off.”

Kent has been a fixture at the annual event since he was a kid. He said he’s been attending the fair his “whole life.” Even as young boy, his favorite part was the carnival.

“Back then, those were the days we had the rat races,” he said. “You would put the mouse on and the mouse would go down in the color hole. That was back in the day. It was 25 cents a square.”

Kent also enjoys the food. Just about everyone knows it’s not a fair without the food — cotton candy, funnel cakes, corndogs and more. Kent’s favorite fair food is polish sausage, but it’s always followed up with an ice cream from Mr. Quick, who has also been a fixture at the Lincoln County Fair.

“It’s the best ice cream,” Kent said. “Plus, Mr. Quick walks around to all the gate workers on every shift and he gives everybody a cup of ice cream. That’s one of your rewards for working the gate. He is going to come by and see you with ice cream.”

Right now, Kent is dreaming of the fun times ahead. Once the fair starts, Kent never leaves the fairgrounds. He works, eats and sleeps the Lincoln County Fair.

“I never leave,” he said, adding he’s there the week before the fair and the week after.

Though the hours are long, Kent enjoys being a part of the fair tradition. He credits the late Mike Brown for the reason he serves on the fair board.

“Mike was on the executive board for several years,” Kent said. “He passed away last year, but he’s the reason I do this.”

This year — the 116th event — marks Kent’s first year as the president of the board, though he served as vice president for seven years.

“We have the best fair in the state of Tennessee,” Kent said. “I recommend everybody to at least come to the fair one time to get the experience in.”

He believes those who give it a shot will be heading back for years to come.

Like the theme “Sunflowers, Boots and Agricultural roots” the fair is meant to represent the culture of Lincoln County and organizers believe it offers something for everyone.

“We offer the same things as a lot of different areas in the state as far as 4-H and livestock shows,” Kent said. “We are the only fair in the state of Tennessee that does have the harness horse races. We are one of several fairs that do the demolition derby and truck and tractor pull. Some fairs don’t offer stuff like that.”

Kent said fairs need something for all ages to do. For example, he said when a kid sees their dad or uncle building a derby car, and then they get to bring their own car, like a Power Wheels, it makes the experience special.

“It’s nice to see a big demolition derby car come in the gate and they’ve got their little tyke’s car strapped on the back,” he said.

The biggest change this year is organizers are bringing back the rodeo after not having a fair in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Though it’s back this year, organizers said COVID precautions will be taken during fair week.

“We will be cleaning rides and games after every use and there will be hand sanitation stations throughout the fairgrounds,” Kent said. “Masks are not required, but there will be masks for your comfort at every gate.”

The Lincoln County Fair brings people from around the region to Fayetteville. Kent said those people are staying in hotel rooms, buying gas and even tires and brakes, washing clothes at the laundry mat and bringing funds into the area. Sometimes it’s hard to find a room around Lincoln County during fair week.

“It brings in more money than people might realize,” Kent said.

He said the Lincoln County Fair also pays out premiums to winning students and adults for competitions such as 4-H, livestock exhibits, the creative living building, agricultural exhibits and more. Those costs, most recently, have been around $75,000, but can go upward to $90,000 each season, according to Kent, who said that doesn’t include overhead for supplies, utilities and more.

The fair also gives back to the community through organizations like softball teams, the band and other clubs, who work the gates and park cars among other things, according to Kent.

“A lot of organizations use it as fundraiser,” Kent said.

Kent said it’s the volunteers and fair board that makes Lincoln County Fair one of the best in the state.

He said the fair could not go on without the board and the volunteers.

A lot of time and manpower go into making the Lincoln County Fair work. One volunteer said he’s put in 250 hours by himself this year.

“Everybody’s a volunteer,” Kent said, adding there’s about 30 people putting in a ton of work every day. “We have people here doing something at all times.”

“At the end of the day we are one big family and we make this thing go matter what,” he said. “We might not see eye to eye on everything, but at the end of the week we are all family. We make it work. From picking up trash and cleaning bathrooms to parking cars, we make it work.”

Visit www.lincolncountyfairtn.com to find out more about the Lincoln County Fair, which starts Saturday, Sept. 18 and runs through Sept. 25