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Thursday, September 28, 2023

First weekend of Alachua County Fair draws families

Funnel cake, a Ferris wheel and an Alaskan grizzly bear only come together once a year.

The Alachua County Fair, which opened Friday and runs until Oct. 27 at the Alachua County Fairgrounds, offers rides, games, food, live bands, vendors and animal shows, said Stephen White, CEO of Event Marketing Corporation, which is managing the fair. About 30,000 people are expected to attend.

Sunday was Family Day, and the fairgrounds were filled with parents and children enjoying the clear skies and crisp air.

Rides like the Berry Go Round were filled with children, who squealed as parents stood watching and waiting.

Loretta Taylor held the hand of her 2-year-old daughter, Gabriella, as they watched her son and nephew enjoy a spinning motorcycle ride.

When the motorcycles slowed to a stop, the boys jumped off and ran toward Taylor. Her son, Barry Hickey, 6, laughed giddily when she asked him if he had fun.

A tent full of farm animals — filled with beasts from geese to goats — was also a hit with children, especially a black-and-white, pot-bellied pig.

Wagging his curly tail, Sausage looked more like a puppy than a pig as he sniffed 22-month-old Anna Bates through the wire of his cage.

“She loves animals,” said Anna’s mother, Lisa Bates, as the blonde toddler jumped into a nearby pile of sawdust.

The fairground food was also popular with Anna and her family, who ate hot dogs, French fries and baskets of corn dogs.

Fairgoers this year can expect 24 food stands in total, which is more than the previous year, White said. A pineapple-flavored ice cream has been especially popular.

Extra funnel cake isn’t the only difference between this year’s fair and last year’s event.

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Attendance so far has increased by 10 to 15 percent, White said.

“A true county fair is a mirror image of the community,” he said.

White plans to raise involvement in next year’s fair by reaching out to fraternities and sororities at UF for fundraisers.

“The future of this fair is up to the community and what it wants to see,” he said.

The fair is open from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and from 2 p.m. to midnight on weekends.

Friday’s Midnight Madness is aimed at students and stays open until 1 a.m.

Not far away, Nate and Tammy O’Neal, Gainesville residents, walked out of a haunted house.

The couple, who said they’ve been coming to the fair for years, enjoy the food the most. The shish kabobs are their favorite, said Nate, who was born and raised in Alachua County.

And the haunted house?

“It wasn’t,” he said, laughing.

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