FRANKLINTON, La. -- Damage from the March and August floods couldn't keep a century-long tradition from taking place in Washington Parish this week.
The 2016 Free Parish Fair opened to the masses at the fairgrounds in Franklinton Wednesday morning.
For 105 years, the event has kicked off with an opening bell. For the past several decades, the crowd has filed into the fairgrounds behind a parade with fair queens, floats, bands and babies.
This year, the tradition was in jeopardy. March's flood waters washed out the only way into the fairgrounds, destroying about four buildings along the way. Then the August flood threatened months of progress.
But fair officials knew the community not only wanted its signature event back in time, they needed it.
"I know personally several people who lost their homes," said 2016 Fair President Ed Branch. "Their question to me was were we going to have a fair this year, were we going to have the fairgrounds back in shape. So I know how important it is."
A host of volunteers and $300,000 made it happen.
"It was a task at hand, a good challenge, had some good help, got it all done," said building and grounds chairman Donald Folse.
The opening day turnout of locals and out-of-towners showed the effort was appreciated. More than 300,000 attendees are expected over the four-day event.
"Always come to the fair," said Carol Conerly.
"It's a tradition, long time tradition." Her husband, from Osyka, MS, said, "That's where I met the love of my life."
"That's right," said Conerly, "50 years ago."
Vernessa Travis from St. Helena said, "It's nice to see all the people, friendly people, good food."
But the Washington Parish community says this fair is more than just performances and carnival rides, it's the memories made and a tradition staying strong.
The self-proclaimed largest free fair in the world will be open through Saturday, Oct. 22, each day starting around 9 a.m. and going to almost midnight.
It's free entry and free entertainment, including some major country artists, but food, rides and the rodeo do have a cost. The fun starts at the end of Main Street in Franklinton.
(© 2017 WWL)