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WCSO keeps fair running smooth for another year

Much of the work that goes into making the Appalachian Fair a success is supplied by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in efforts that are both seen and behind-the-scenes.
“We can’t do it without them,” said Phil Booher, secretary-manager of the Appalachian Fair. “They provide very valuable services.”
Booher said it’s necessary for the four-member fair staff to bring in more employees to operate the event. “Without the additional volunteers and (fair board) directors, there is no way we could make it happen.”
Off-duty officers are employed by the fair in a number of roles, but coordination by WCSO leaders is necessary to ensure regular duties are covered. “We can’t just take a break because the fair is in town,” Capt. Greg Matherly said.
Preparation and planning are key, Capt. Mark Page agreed. “Everyone gives a little, and the supervisors have a balance,” he said. “We’re a community sheriff’s office, and we’re here to serve and support the community.”
Page said he sends a memo to the Patrol Division a month and a half in advance and lists the areas that need to be staffed. A planning meeting is then held with Appalachian Fair staff to discuss the details.
The week before the start of the event, the WCSO puts up approximately 15 signs indicating alternate routes and fair parking locations. “If you come from any area, there is a sign and an officer at the first intersection (to the fair),” he said. “Over time, people have realized there are other routes. There are a lot more using Eastern Star Road now.”
Page said three positions were added for the 2014 fair because of the construction on Bobby Hicks Highway that can tie up traffic at the Gray Station Road intersection.
The Community Services Division also starts getting ready a month ahead, Matherly said. Crews of carefully selected inmates from the Washington County Detention Center are dispatched to provide mowing and weed-eating services for the grounds and prepare the baseball fields for parking.
Turning the area into a fair can come with surprises, often involving the plumbing. “Many of the water lines are turned off all year, and when they come on, they break,” Matherly said.
As the event nears, Matherly said as many as three Community Service Units can be working on the site preparing for the crowds. Placing tables and chairs at the main stage are other responsibilities.
“The units also help a lot with setting up the Farm and Home Building, and cover any painting needs,” he said. “They are there to assist and make sure we have a good fair.”
It’s all about staying on schedule once the event begins, and Matherly and Page are quick to say the WCSO couldn’t do it alone.
“A great resource for us is the Gray Community Center, which serves as our command post,” Matherly said. The center sits next to the volunteer fire department building on Gray Ruritan Drive.
“We take over the garage to store our vehicles, radar equipment and four-wheelers,” Page explained. “They also feed us every day. It would be hard without people helping people, which is what makes this thing roll.”
Traffic duty begins with a 4 p.m. roll call at the community center. Page said the objectives for his platoons are to get everyone in as quickly and safely as possible. “Then we turn around hours later and get them back out.”
Community Service Units are on the fairgrounds by 7:30 a.m. to begin pulling out approximately 150 trash barrels that must be emptied before the trash truck arrives at 9 a.m. Mornings are then spent cleaning the bathrooms and the showers on the site. Afterward, units are available for any jobs Booher needs completed. Another bus returns at night with a unit who picks up all the trash left on the grounds.
WCSO members also are visible in many areas of the fairgrounds during the open hours.
Officers from the Detention Center can be found at the gates taking tickets, and a large percentage of the deputies working security on the Midway are reserve officers.
Inside the Farm and Home Building, officers from the Criminal Investigation Division are manning the WCSO exhibit. Representatives from the Administrative Services Division staff the exhibit at night, and a law enforcement officer is present to answer questions.
“This year’s focus is home water and food storage in emergency and disaster situations,” Matherly said. “Washington County has recently provided emergency response during two tornadoes and a flood.”
Another section of the exhibit includes antique relics from the original county jail, drug paraphernalia and a modern-day holding cell. “We’ve tried to retrofit it to feel like a real cell,” Matherly said, adding it’s a popular attraction for the kids.
The exhibit also is a great asset in educating the public, according to Matherly.
“You hear a lot about (items used to manufacture) meth, but sometimes it’s easier to see it,” he said. “These are examples of things the public should be aware of that could be illegal.”
Community Service Units are still cleaning up and tearing down seven to 10 days after the fair ends, Matherly said. “We try to leave everything in good shape, like we found it.”
Changes over the years also have impacted the fair, which at one time followed race week in Bristol.
“Now they’re held the same week, which maybe brings in more people,” Matherly said.
Booher estimated the numbers from the first few days of the fair were comparable to those of the 2013 event. “We’re hoping to have 240,000,” he said of this year’s goal.
Another improvement, according to Page, is the widening of Bobby Hicks Highway to four lanes. “It’s really changed the traffic in out out, and made it faster.”
Having worked the fair for more than 20 years, both see it as a unifying event for the community and the WCSO.
“It’s a great time to catch up with people you may not see all year,” Matherly said, including officers who work in other divisions.
Page agreed there is a team atmosphere in working an annual event. “I enjoy the camaraderie,” he said. “It’s a rough week, but it’s fun.”