I took my usual day-before-the-Fair stroll around the Fairgrounds this afternoon, expecting to see a lot of changes after all the money that was put into improving the grounds, and expecting to see a slightly different Midway. I was not disappointed.
First of all, if you get to the Fair by Blue Ridge and then go to Trinity, you probably end up parking in paid parking or at Carter-Finley or the RBC center. That means you probably enter via Gate 8 or Gate 9. Going in Gate 9 this afternoon I was amazed at how totally different everything felt immediately. Instead of entering and immediately turning left, proceeding towards the top-of-the-hill rides and the Kerr Scott building, I had the option of going straight forward and into the new midway area. No longer will you walk through the gates and straight toward a fence. The layout feels much more open.
The midway has been more paved, and while it seems there are more rides available, it also feels like there has been an effort to make more places to sit. Large squares of plants have been placed strategically around the midway. Old-fashioned street lights are scattered here and there. While I read on WRAL about more lines being underground, there were still plenty to step over. (Maybe it's because it was the day before?) One thing I did notice is that some cables were not secured with movable cable protectors but rather with protective matting that appeared to be bolted into the asphalt. Less likely to move around and it seemed less likely that it would be tripped over.
The new Red Cross building / pitstop will give you a slight sense of deja vu -- if you just glance at it, it looks like the building in front of the grandstand! When you look at it more closely, of course, it looks much newer. Now if they can just drop a small building at the bottom of the old midway, so there's not just a trailer full of bathrooms down there...
Speaking of the old midway, that's been more developed as well, with what looks like more rides and general stuff. The petting zoo/elephant rides are at the bottom of the hill near gate 5, where there's plenty of shade and sometimes it's actually rather quiet. Nicer for the animals. Many signs around the petting zoo noting the new handwashing regulations, and lots of handwashing stations around all over the fairgrounds. I miss the arcade tent -- it's fun to play DDR at the fair. I also miss the coin pusher games that were on the old midway. (Coin pushers are a little hard to explain, but you can see some older examples at http://www.melright.com/bryans/brypush.htm. I still have some of my old Strates Shows tokens from those games.)
I took a turn around Heritage Circle to see if the gardens were open (they weren't) and to check out this year's gardening theme (waterwise gardening -- terrific! Look for an article on that next week). I noticed that a walking loop has been paved into Heritage Circle -- it'll be a lot easier for wheelchairs and strollers to get to the forge or have some freshly-pressed apple cider (oo, and apple cider freezies! Are those new?) Unfortunately, if you're in a stroller or wheelchair and you want to go across the lake and up the far hill, you're still going to be doing a bit of four-wheelin'.
One thing that definitely struck me wandering around today, as opposed to last year -- things were much more prepared. Rides were still being put up, but the activity was purposeful and measured, not frenetic. Another thing I noticed was the condition of the rides. Sometimes you'll see midway rides that -- well, they look a bit long in the tooth. Many I saw today looked very new, very bright and fresh. One kid's train in particular about bright and fresh'd the eyeballs out of my head.
The North Carolina State Fair Site has daily schedules available at http://www.ncstatefair.org/2006/.
It's so great to be blogging the Fair again for you this year! Stay tuned. It's going to be a fun ten days!