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Councilors support opposition to new fair dates

HOULTON, Maine — Town Councilors on Tuesday evening agreed to send a certified letter opposing the changing of any dates of the Houlton Agricultural Fair.

The letter will be sent to Walt Whitcomb, commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, who must decide the dates of the Houlton and Presque Isle fairs and will hear arguments for and against during a special hearing Friday, Oct. 12, in Augusta.

The Northern Maine Fair is seeking to change the dates of its fair, which has typically taken place at the end of July, to instead run from Friday, June 28, through Saturday, July 6. This past year, the Presque Isle festival was held from July 27 to Aug. 4.

The newly proposed dates are in direct competition with Houlton’s annual fair, which currently is slated for July 4-7 in 2019.

Lynwood Winslow, president of the Northern Maine Fair, appeared before the Presque Isle City Council recently asking councilors to draft a letter of support for the date change. During that meeting, Winslow said the change was needed because that is when the fair’s provider of carnival rides is available.

Paul Cleary, president of the Houlton Agricultural Fair Association, said last week that Smokey’s Greater Shows of Fryeburg secured the contract to provide midway rides to the Bangor State Fair in 2019. Because the Bangor State Fair is scheduled for July 27-Aug. 5, the midway company would not be able to provide rides for the Northern Maine Fair under its normal dates. Last year, Fiesta Shows of Seabrook, N.H., provided the midway entertainment at the Bangor State Fair. Cleary said he was asked by officials with Smokey’s Greater Shows to consider moving the dates of Houlton’s festival to July 11-14, but the fair board was not in favor of the idea. He said that if the Northern Maine Fair’s requested change of dates moves forward, the two fairs will then compete with each other for attendance as Houlton has no plans to alter its festival dates.

In their letter to the state agriculture commissioner, Houlton councilors, touched upon the town’s history and cultural identity and sense of place.

“Due to our community’s abiding respect for our rural character and small town traditions, we strongly support the Houlton Fair Board of Directors in their opposition to change the dates of the Northern Maine Fair,” they wrote. “It’s our opinion that altering the schedule in the manner suggested will be detrimental to the Houlton Agricultural Fair, which has become a cherished and well established tradition for commemorating Independence Day in the Town of Houlton.”

They said that Houlton has always been “THE” place to be on Independence Day and that the fair had been a licensed fair since 1986. A Fourth of July celebration has happened in Houlton on a continuous basis in Houlton since 1981.

Cleary also said that many of the food vendors that come to the Houlton Fair also travel to Presque Isle, which means they will wind up losing money in the long run as well.

Councilors noted that the fair had grown over the past 37 years and become “the keystone of the 4th of July festivities.”

The fair draws people to town and the influx in population “enhances participation in the fair and provides a tremendous economic boost to our town.”

The letter was signed by all the councilors.

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