Bill McCracken has plenty of memories from the Sparkleberry Country Fair, like the time he came in second place in the cow-milking contest.
Now those memories won’t have the same sense of place. After 23 years, the Sparkleberry Country Fair is moving, according to McCracken, chairman of the fair.
The move comes after Clemson’s Sandhill Research and Education Center said that the two-decade-old festival can no longer be held on its grounds. Those grounds, a well-known landmark in the area, are located in northeast Columbia along Clemson Road across from the Village at Sandhill shopping center.
Clemson decided to split with the Sparkleberry Country Fair because it’s expanding its crop research efforts, according to Dr. Katherine Coleman, director of the Sandhill Research and Education Center center.
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“The Sandhill Research and Education Center’s core mission and primary function is as an agricultural research station where crops are developed, and crop production techniques are tested,” Coleman said in a statement. “The goal of this research is to help South Carolina farmers increase production efficiency and decrease costs.
“While we recognize the importance of the fair as a community event ... we can no longer host such a large event out of concern for the research that is taking place on the grounds.”
The Sparkleberry Country Fair, which typically happens in late April or early May, was founded in 1996 to bring together residents of a growing section of Columbia and raise money for Richland School District 2 students and teachers, according to McCracken. All of the fair’s nearly $850,000 in profits have gone towards grants for teachers and $1,000 scholarships to high school students.
Over the 23 years at the location, the fair grew until it took up nearly the entire section of the grounds, McCracken said. And it’s with some sadness that they’re departing from the old fair grounds.
“If you’ve done something for 23 years and all of a sudden you can’t do it anymore, you’d be a little disappointed too,” McCracken said.
Coleman says she informed the Sparkleberry Country Fair committee that it wouldn’t be able to use the grounds in May. A farmer’s market that happens at the research center shouldn’t be affected by any changes as long as demands for the event remains, according to Coleman. A children’s garden on the grounds is set to be moved to the front of the property.
McCracken and the fair’s leadership have found two potential spots, one in Kershaw County and another on Killian Road near Interstate 77 in Richland County.
“We wanted to stay as close to (the Sandhill research center) as we could because people are used to that site and we don’t want them driving all over place,” McCracken said.
McCracken said he is determined that the move won’t stop fair organizers from their mission of supporting Richland 2.
“Our goal is to get to a million dollars,” he said. “Not a lot of folks can say they gave a million dollars. We aren’t going to give up until we reach our goal.”
They aren’t ready to give up on making memories either, like when Army paratroopers from Fort Bragg soared over the fair with flares, only to land and catch a field on fire — a brush burning that was quickly extinguished.
“People thought it was part of the show but it really wasn’t,” McCracken said.