Friends uncovered secrets about other friends this weekend at the Northern Gila County Fair.
John Johnson stood next to a long row of delicately artful bonsai trees, which his friend of 16 years, Arlene Keefer never knew existed.
“I knew he was into bonsai, but not on this scale,” she said, amazed. Johnson has been growing them for 35 years.
“I have a new respect for you, buddy,” Keefer told him. “I thought all you did was twiddle your thumbs.”
Johnson replied, “I keep good secrets.”
Some people at the fair said organizers kept the weekend event too good a secret.
“I think it’s great,” said Marlene Smith about the fair, “but they need to advertise. I don’t know where the people are.”
Indeed, few people walked around about 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon. However, the fair was nearing closing time and cars and trucks were crashing into one another at the Demolition Derby across the street. At least one person at the fair speculated the derby stole crowds from the plants and crafts on the reservation.
Next year, however, the fair could heal its highway divide. Organizers want the entire fair at the Payson Event Center, said fair chair Wendell Stevens. The carnival should also return next year. This year, all the companies were booked.
“We’re going to give the people more of a fair experience,” he said. “We’re really excited about that.”
Stevens said although attendance was a little down this year, the number of exhibits stayed steady at around 3,000.
Some categories, like photography, enjoyed heavy competition, while other categories, like fine art, suffered low interest.
“It was a little slow,” said Larry Olson, sitting by the baked goods section. He speculated that the sad economy partially depressed turnout.
Marcia Olson said that perhaps the art of craft is dying. The ease of walking into a store and purchasing a boxed item has fewer people expressing their creativity, the Olsons said.
“We’re trying to do things to bring people in,” said Marcia. For instance, 900 elementary school children took buses to the fair on Friday. Stevens said this year’s elementary student attendance broke the old record of about 600 students.
Marcia said hopefully, kids return home and tell their parents how cool the fair is.
Organizers also invent new categories, like this year’s pioneer recipe competition.
“Get your kids involved; that’s so important,” said Marcia.
“Get them out of the box and into the kitchen,” said Larry.
Marcia added, “away from the TV.”