PRAIRIE GROVE -- A one-year break from the annual Clothesline Fair did not appear to dampen enthusiasm or attendance for the community parade, the craft and food booths and the square dancing.
Thousands turned out over Labor Day weekend at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park for the 2021 Clothesline Fair.
Temple Moore with her Arts of the Grove booth spent 20 years participating in the Clothesline Fair, stepped away for nine years and then returned for this year's festival.
"The crowd is awesome," Moore said Saturday. "I think after having a year off, everyone in Prairie Grove is appreciative of it even more."
Moore, who is retired as an art teacher from Prairie Grove schools, said she most enjoyed visiting with people she had not seen in several years.
Lee Coates of Highlandville, Mo., brought his booth, called the Papercrete Potter, to the Clothesline Fair for the second time. His first time was in 2019, and he said customers then "carried away everything except my wife, my tables and my chairs."
Coats expressed his appreciation to the Prairie Grove Lions Club for opening back up the Clothesline Fair. He spends 30 weekends out of the year going to festivals and fairs and was glad to be back at it this year, he said.
The Lions Club, which sponsors the fair, canceled the 2020 event because of covid-19. This year's event would have been the 70th annual Clothesline Fair, except for the pandemic.
The weekend opened with the Clothesline Parade, sponsored by Prairie Grove Chamber of Commerce. Downtown Prairie Grove was crowded as many families and residents turned out to watch the parade, which started around the middle school and finished past the state park entrance.
Parade entries included square dance groups, tractors, classic and antique vehicles, businesses, nonprofit organizations, police and fire departments.
The arts and crafts vendors and food trucks opened at 8 a.m. Saturday and were ready for the first visitors of the day.
The Lions Club took on a new responsibility this year for the Clothesline Fair. In the past, the Arts Center of the Ozarks has coordinated and organized the arts and crafts vendors for the fair. For 2021, the Lions Club assumed that job, along with also being in charge of the food vendors, smoking chicken and baloney for the Latta Barn, and coordinating the community's local square dance tradition.
Casey Copeland, Lions Club president, said the fair had 120 vendors and only four canceled because of covid-19 concerns.
Copeland said the Lions Club arranged vendor tents a little differently this year, so it may have appeared the number of vendors was down. The club kept a grassy area open on the east end of the first two rows nearest the street with the intent of moving picnic tables over there to provide an eating space.
The picnic tables were much heavier than anyone realized, Copeland said. After moving the first one, he said he decided not to try to move anymore.
"It doesn't look a lot different than '19 around here," Copeland said Saturday. "This is not a disappointing crowd at all."
With rain in the forecast for Saturday night and Sunday morning, Copeland said he also made the decision to purchase tarps for the large, white tents to provide some protection from the weather. He said the club bought $700 worth of blue tarps and joked there will be a "tarp sale" after the fair.
In addition, several vendors offered products that were outside the traditional fares visitors would see at the Clothesline Fair. It's possible, Copeland said, the fair could set aside an area in the future that is designated for nontraditional vendors.
One thing he knows for certain, he said, is that the Lions Club will need more members or volunteers if it wants to continue to sponsor the Clothesline Fair as it is today, including the food provided by the Lions Club in the Latta Barn. He said the club has about 12 active members and invited anyone interested to attend one of the meetings.
Looking toward the future, Copeland said he hopes more vendors, especially food vendors, will come to the Clothesline Fair and also plans to continue to encourage the state park to provide additional electrical access for vendors.
"I know it's an historic park and we need to maintain that tradition," Copeland said. "But the park already has electric in a number of places. There's no reason there can't be a few more."
He noted that the history of the park and the Clothesline Fair go together.
"The park is here because of the homecoming tradition that became the Clothesline Fair, and it became a state park because of the Clothesline Fair and the Lions Club. It doesn't have to stay exactly the way it's always been."
Along with the crafts and food vendors, visitors also had the opportunity to watch 81 square dance groups perform on Saturday and Monday. The younger, exhibition groups took the amphitheater stage in the afternoon both days, and the older groups vying to win the Peggy Parks Memorial Square Dance Competition started their performances in the evenings, with the winner announced Monday night.
Craig Battles, who is in charge of square dancing for the Lions Club, said a record number of groups registered this year, and only one had to cancel because of covid-19 issues. For the afternoon, 63 exhibition groups performed, and for the evening, 18 older groups competed.
Sue McCoy with the Northeast Oklahome Square Dance Association out of Tulsa, Okla., has served as a judge in Prairie Grove for about seven or eight years.
"We enjoy it," McCoy said. "We have to be very careful because they are all so good."
The competition also benefits the square dance groups in the Tulsa area, McCoy said. She said the judges come away with ideas for outfits and dance moves for their own groups.
Copeland expressed his appreciation to everyone who helped over the weekend. In particular, he thanked two new club members, Phil Huffaker and Jeremy Conkel, for helping to organize and work with the arts and crafts vendors.
"They basically saved us as far as getting vendors situated," Copeland said. "They were amazing."