CHATHAM – The exhibition buildings, barns and grandstand have gone silent after another busy year, but behind the scenes there are many hands working to plan events at Chatham Fairgrounds in 2022.
Owned and operated by the nonprofit Columbia County Agricultural Society, an organization almost as old as the 180-year-old Fair itself, an eighteen-member board of directors is responsible for the management of the property.
The fairgrounds are private, although open to the public for daytime use as well as for special events.
“This is perhaps one of the most common misconceptions,” said Nelson Alford, chairman of the board of the Agricultural Society. “Although it is named after the county, it is not owned or managed by Columbia County.” The proceeds from its use – especially the profits made at the annual county fair – keep buildings and grounds in pristine condition. While dogs are not permitted on the park-like grounds, the public is encouraged to use the peaceful, park-like setting to exercise during opening hours, seven days a week.
The largest and most visible event held on the 82 acres of landscaped grounds is the annual Columbia County Fair. It is one of the oldest county fairs in the country and has always maintained an authentic agricultural and community spirit.
Visitors to the fair may notice a group of men and women dressed in light blue polo shirts present on site throughout the six days of the fair. They are members of the board of directors, who look behind the scenes in all aspects of its operation. These men and women are life members of the Agricultural Society whose backgrounds and experience represent the worlds of agriculture and agriculture, as well as finance, public safety, local business, law and even the field of design. “This range of diverse skills and expertise is one of the greatest strengths of the board,” said Alford. “Some of them are even descendants of members who have served in the past.”
Last year the fair was canceled for the first time in its 180-year history. The director of the fair is Angelo Nero, who joined the board of directors in 1976. “The pandemic closed all the fairs in the county in 2020. It was great to return to a more normal schedule this year,” he said. -he declares. While the precise economic impact on the county is not known, it is clear that the influx of visitors during the course of the fair results in increased seasonal jobs and traffic for local businesses.
The Board of Directors meets monthly and members work throughout the year on projects to modernize the property and improve the experience for all who attend events. It takes a tremendous amount of time and energy, but it is an effort which, according to Nero, is “really a labor of love.” Work on the next fair begins shortly after the end of the previous one, when an assessment of infrastructure needs is carried out and a search for the best events and entertainment begins in earnest.
While the annual fair is arguably the property’s largest and most elaborate use, it has also served as a venue for other events and special occasions.
The 1884 fair was the scene of weddings, proms and other celebrations. Chatham High School graduation ceremonies have been held there for the past two years to address the need for social distancing, a change that has been embraced by faculty, students and families.
The grounds also hosted the Columbia County Youth Theater summer camp, Boy and Girl Boy Scout Troops, a car show, and PeeWee football. As part of a cooperative arrangement, the annual Open Horse Show was held in the days leading up to the last county fairs. This gives runners a chance to compete in a location that allows spectators to enjoy the show from the grandstand.
Storage for boats, trailers and RVs is also available each winter on the Fairgrounds property.
Most recently, the Chatham Fire Department sponsored a “Trick or Treat drive-in” for a second Halloween in a row. Other local fire departments and their auxiliaries, as well as Chatham Police and Village Council participated. Mayor John Howe said he was pleased to hear so many positive comments from Chatham residents about the event. “We hope to do it every year,” he said.
The Board of Directors of the Agricultural Society also supports the future of the many students who are part of the 4-H programs or who are otherwise involved in project work or the cattle show at the annual fair. An annual scholarship is available to county residents who will be enrolled in college agriculture programs.
This year’s winner is Caroline Lafferty from Schodack Landing. She graduated from Maple Hill High School and is currently studying Animal Science with a concentration in Dairy Management and a minor in Commerce at Cornell University. Caroline has been present at the Fair for a long time and participated in the 4H program.
Qualifications information and an application are available on the fair website: www.columbiafair.com.