Opening weekend of the 2017 Arkansas State Fair may be over, but for many that means the fun is just getting started.
Speaking of getting started, get started early with Lunch at the Fair from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Friday, Oct. 20. Patrons get free parking and a free gate admission. Regular gate admission for adults is $10 and $5 for children and seniors. Parking is $10.
Other promotions include College Night, where students with a valid college I.D. get free gate admission after 6 p.m. Thursday.
School Day at the fair is Friday afternoon. Admission is $3 after 1 p.m. for school-age children, grades 12 and under. Members of FFA, FCCLA, 4H, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, their teachers, sponsors, and bus drivers, can get in the fair for $3 until 5 p.m. Saturday.
The Southeast Regional Youth Talent and Fair Queen competition begins at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the Arkansas Building. Arkansas’s rockabilly band The Legendary Pacers, performs at 6:15 p.m. Thursday, on Wendy’s Main Stage. The band’s front man: singer/guitarist Sonny Burgess, of Newport died in August. He was 88. Ann Wilson, of the 80’s rock group Heart, performs afterward at 7:30 p.m.
The PRCA rodeo competition kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Barton Coliseum and finals for the Southeast Regional Youth Talent and Fair Queen competition start at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, in the Arkansas Building; along with more PRCA rodeo at 7:30 p.m.
Herds of folks flock to the Arkansas State Fair for the livestock and agricultural exhibits in the numerous barns around Barton Coliseum for good reason.
Agriculture is a big cornerstone of the state’s economy. Students who show animals at the fair have to invest both money and time working with their animals, as well as making sure an animal’s paperwork: such as vaccinations and registration forms, are all in order.
For students who show livestock at the Arkansas State Fair, their efforts can pay off, literally, with scholarship money. At the conclusion of last year’s fair a grand champion steer sold for $19,000 said Sherman Lites, livestock director for the Arkansas State Fair, said.
“Fair time is about how much work these kids put into these projects. It teaches them responsibility. It’s a good time, but the kids are 100 percent focused on showing. A lot of families from all over the state meet here, see each other here once a year, year after year, but they’ll stay in touch a long time,” Lites said.
Some farm families make bonds during the Arkansas State Fair that last a lifetime.
Most livestock barns are open to visitors from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Prior to opening weekend, we sampled some of the Arkansas State Fair’s food offerings during the 2017 Tasty TOM (Taste of the Midway) Awards at the fairgrounds. The competition highlights new culinary offerings at the fair and gives trophies for Most Creative and Best Tasting.
Our vote went for Hot Beef Sundae’s barbecue beef parfait. It’s a cup of barbecue beef, mashed potatoes, baked beans, and cheese, easily eaten with a fork while strolling down the midway.
Although not competing, Swain’s Bug Pizza garnered much attention for their unusual cheese pizzas topped with baked scorpions, crickets, and mealworms.
L&M Concessions is offering salad-on-a-stick this year, a bold pivot from its “deep-fried everything” offerings, including this year’s deep-fried pineapple rings.
Pat’s Kitchen, a North Little Rock-based concessionaire, won both the Most Creative and Best Tasting awards for their “Thanksgiving Taco,” which is a flour tortilla stuffed with turkey, cornbread dressing, gravy, and cranberry sauce.
North America Midway Entertainment is providing the amusement rides this year. The company operates rides 150 dates each year, entertaining roughly 15 million people across the United States and Canada.
Amusement ride armbands are $30 to climb aboard the more than 60 rides at the 2017 Arkansas State Fair, including two roller coasters: Crazy Mouse and The Blitzer; and a log flume-style water ride.
Scooter Korek, vice president of client services for North America Midway Entertainment said the company works to get away from the seedy carnival-folk stereotype with around 400 well-trained, clean-cut, younger employees in polo shirts.
“Safety is paramount to everything we do and we put a huge emphasis on customer service,” Korek said.
Safety at the fair will be the first thing most fair-goers notice. Each gate will have a walk-through metal detector, along with additional metal detector wands, and added security personnel.
Traffic and parking should be better this year too, noted Ralph Shoptaw, president and general manager of the Arkansas State Fair.
“There’s a new Roosevelt Road bridge and we purchased ten lots on Howard Street, cleared and graveled them, for additional parking,” Shoptaw said. Arkansas Master Gardeners volunteer to help beautify the fairgrounds and future plans include constructing an east-to-west façade to welcome visitors to the Arkansas State Fair.
With a little more than 100 acres compared to the state fairgrounds average of 366 acres, the Arkansas State Fair has had some growing pains in the past, but one thing is clear: it’s just too much fun for one week.