Just for the thrill of it | TheUnion.com

Just for the thrill of it

Carnival rides, contests and cotton candy marked the first day of this year’s Nevada County Fair, with fair officials predicting record turnout despite recent worries of low attendance.

Families and teens thronged the fairgrounds Wednesday on McCourtney Road, just west of Grass Valley, with thousands enjoying discounts offered for “scholar students” recognized by the county superintendent of schools.

Scholar student Jared Skowronski, 12, and buddy Martin Vigil, also 12, rode their favorite rides – the giant Ferris wheel and the Himalayan, a machine that spins riders backwards and forwards. Then the south county boys headed to the Job’s Daughters booth for corndogs.

“I like the rides and the hypnotist,” Jared said, adding he attends the fair every year. “And I like the corndogs.”

“The games look pretty good, too,” Martin said.

Nearby, a chiseled carnival worker with a pack of cigarettes rolled up into the sleeve of his turquoise shirt held a fistful of $10 and $20 bills as he handed out darts for a balloon shoot. The hot, sweet smell of cotton candy mixed with the cheery tune of the carousel and the screams of delighted riders turning head over heals on the Zipper ride.

Emily Rose Tate, 8, clambered up the steps to the Orient Express, a small roller coaster in the shape of a scaly dragon. But she confessed her favorite was the Fireball, another ingenious, gravity-defying device that spins riders around until they feel sick.

“It’s fun to be scared,” Emily said.

A year of work

Across the fairgrounds, past the hubbub of knishes, tacos and orange ices, baby pygmy goats bleated and enormous, pink bristled pigs lazed on straw in their pens while a band played rockabilly hits.

Mariah Mena and five other middle school-age children stood in white pants, white shirts and green ties and caps, guiding their chickens across a table while a man in a plaid shirt and straw cowboy hat judged the junior showmanship division.

“It’s a big deal,” said Kentucky Flat 4-H mom Debby Totoonchie, adding the children started raising the birds as pullets back in September.

The judge asked questions of each contestant to see what they knew about their animals, then the awards came down: Mariah’s light brown Dutch bantam took 4th place, and she brought back her pink ribbon to applauding family and friends.

“Four-H is all about family, Totoonchie added.


Families may be the key to the fair’s success this year, fair publicist Wendy Oakes speculated.

Despite a downturn in the economy, unusually long pre-sale lines and a heavy turnout for “student scholar” day on Thursday bode well for the fair, Oakes said.

But when smoke from historic wildfires covered the skies over western Nevada County a month ago, fair organizers worried: Few entries had come in, and the number of contest entries is one of the strongest indicators of community interest in the fair, Oakes said.

Twice, organizers extended the deadline for submitting paperwork for muffins, metalwork, birdhouses, basil and hundreds of other competitive categories. The plan worked.

“We’ve had 10,400 entries in the fair, and that’s the highest we’ve had,” Oakes said. “When they have entries, the families come.”

High gasoline prices, rising travel costs and record unemployment – rather than hurting the fair – may be helping by prompting what has been dubbed “stay-cations,” she said.

“This is a great community event,” Oakes said. “Maybe you can’t afford to go to Disneyland, but you can go afford to go walk under the pine trees and listen to the music.”

To contact staff writer Trina Kleist, e-mail tkleist@theunion.com or call 477-4230.

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