The N.C. State Fair, North Carolina’s annual celebration of agriculture, opens Thursday as a pleasant diversion for a state that could use one.
The ongoing flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew will be felt at the 11-day fair. People who might have entered a contest, exhibited a prized hog or simply brought their family to Raleigh for a day at the fair won’t be there because they’ve got more pressing problems.
But for many, the games, rides and other attractions – both familiar and new – will help them forget their cares for a while. Here’s what you can expect:
New sky ride
The State Fair Flyer makes its debut. The permanent ride, its cables strung from towers erected this year, will carry you 1,400 feet from one end of the midway to the other, your feet dangling as much as 45 feet above the crowds. At about 2 mph, a one-way ride takes a bit more than 7 minutes. Tickets are $5 one way, $8 round trip.
Logs and lasers
The Heritage Circle looks more like an oval now that the old blacksmith shop has been torn down. The new shop – twin log buildings being completed this week – was donated by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, who considers the circle his favorite spot at the fairgrounds. And after sundown, from 7:30 to 11 p.m. each night, there will be a new multi-laser show over the pond at Heritage Circle.
The old Hobbies and Crafts building, across from the Rabbit Barn, was also torn down. The exhibits that used to be there have swapped places with several vendors who have moved from the Commercial and Education Building near Hillsborough Street. But the Howling Cow Ice Cream Shop, which occupied one end of the Hobbies and Crafts building, remains at its old location in a tent. This year, the folks at N.C. State University have come up with a new flavor: caramel apple crisp – apple ice cream with a cinnamon caramel swirl and graham cracker crumbles.
Another new building will be erected during the fair. Volunteers from various state agencies will build the “North Carolina House” at the Hunt Horse Complex, using materials made in North Carolina or sold by North Carolina-based retailers (Lowe’s is a sponsor). After the fair, the Habitat for Humanity house will be moved to Neuse View Drive in East Raleigh and an owner will move in.
The birds are back
The chickens, ducks, geese and baby chicks will return this year, after a one-year hiatus. State agriculture officials banned public bird shows and sales last year ito prevent the spread of avian flu, which had decimated poultry flocks in other parts of the country. The flu never materialized here, and now the ban is lifted.
The second Thursday will again be Food Lion Hunger Relief Day, when admission is free with five cans of Food Lion brand food. Donations go to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, which could really use the donations now to help people affected by flooding.
Avoid the crowds
Saturdays draw the biggest crowds, especially the second Saturday, when attendance has averaged more than 127,000 during the past decade. By contrast, Mondays have averaged 63,501. Of course, weather has a lot to do with how many people show up; rainy days are always the least crowded ones.
As always, there’s free parking at the State Fair, PNC Arena and Carter-Finley Stadium lots, but getting to a spot can take patience on busy days. GoRaleigh, GoDurham and GoTriangle offer bus service, and Amtrak makes a special stop during the fair. For more information on getting to the fair, go to www.ncstatefair.org/2016/Visitor/GetToFair.htm.
Music for everyone
The State Fair offers music for just about every taste, from gospel choirs to jazz and bluegrass to hardcore punk and heavy metal. There’s always something different all day at the Waterfall Stage outside Dorton Arena, and the evening shows inside feature North Carolina artists. All shows are free. For a lineup, go to http://nando.com/fairmusic.
Times and tickets
▪ Thursday: The fair opens at 3 p.m. Wristbands good for unlimited rides until midnight cost $28. Exhibit halls close at 9:45 p.m. Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for military with ID and $3 for children 6-12. Children under 6 and adults 65 and older are free.
▪ Friday-Oct. 23: Gates open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., except Fridays, Saturdays and Oct. 20, when the fair closes at midnight. Exhibit halls open at 9 a.m. and close at 9:45 p.m., when the fireworks begin. The midway is open 10 a.m. to when the fair closes. Tickets are $10 for adults, $6 for military with ID and $5 for children 6-12. Children under 6 and adults 65 and older are free. On Friday, Oct. 14, students with school ID card or report card are $5.