By Jonathan Owens

It’s been very tough to be a Lee Regional Fair planner in the last four years.

In 2018, Hurricane Florence passed through just as the annual event was getting under way and obliterated the planners’ schedule. Rides were closed and the event was scaled back tremendously.

Then after a successful fair in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 event entirely.

This year, Lee County’s biggest party is scheduled to start on Wednesday and run through Sunday at the Lee County Fairgrounds.

“Last year, people were so upset that it was canceled and so were we,” said Susan Condlin, media coordinator for the fair. “It’s the biggest event in the county and everyone looks forward to it. People want to get out and have some fun.”

Since 1937, the Lions Club has sponsored the fair on the club’s property at North Seventh Street and Colon Road.  All the proceeds from the fair go to aid the club-sponsored projects, in particular assistance to the blind.

There will be some changes, though, as planners cope with the ongoing pandemic. For starters, the fair is a day shorter, starting on Wednesday this year rather than the traditional Tuesday opening. Condlin said the fair will follow N.C. Department of Health & Human Services guidelines and encourage the wearing of masks. Exhibit halls and indoor areas will not be as full this year to encourage social distancing.

Big Rock Amusements will once again provide the Midway attractions and rides. Workers have strict protocols in place for sanitizing, Condlin said.

The fair has also incorporated some much-needed technological changes to allow for a better experience for fairgoers. No longer are ticket sales “cash only,” as credit and debit cards will be accepted at the gate and at the Lions Club food stand, the eatery of choice for most attendees.

And of course, a new Miss Lee Regional Fair will be crowned on Friday night, the culmination of three days of pageants, as is tradition. Five different crowns will be awarded to entrants from Pre-K all the way to 12th grade.

The fair’s tobacco barn and museum will open this year, and tobacco tying and looping contests will be held throughout the week.

Other attractions include drone racing on Friday night, a “Pretty Bird Paradise” exhibit where fairgoers can interact with tropical birds, and “Renee and the Ramblers,” a band, will roam the fairgrounds nightly.

The final day of the fair is canned food collection day, where fairgoers can bring five cans of food to donate to Christians United Outreach Center and the Salvation Army of Lee County and get in for free.