The Saratoga County Fairgrounds: Where else are you going to see rodeo barrel-racing, 7-foot grizzly bears, milking cows and giant draft horses all in one place? Taste fried pickles, Idaho ribbon fries and fresh-squeezed lemonade?
The historic fair, the first of the Capital Region’s summer fairs, kicks off at 9 a.m. today and will run through late Sunday night at the 30-acre fairgrounds on Prospect Street.
“Welcome to fair season. Good news,” said state Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard Ball during an appearance at the fairgrounds Monday.
He said county fairs offer the agricultural community a chance to have positive interactions with the people who are their customers.
“County fairs are where people can reach out and touch agriculture — touch animals, see vegetables, have their picture taken with a farmer,” Ball said.
This will be the 173rd version of a fair that started in 1841. In recent years, between 70,000 and 90,000 people have attended, depending on the weather.
“For us, it has a huge positive impact financially, helping to put Ballston Spa on the map and make us a destination community,” said Ballston Spa Mayor John P. Romano.
The fair was held in the third week in July in recent years, earlier than in the past, in an effort to avoid scheduling conflicts with the Saratoga racing meet. It was moved back to the fourth week this year.
That is giving 4-H exhibitors more time to prepare for the fair after school gets out, and it gives summer vegetables an extra week to grow, said Chuck Curtiss, president of the fair’s board of directors.
“It helps all our exhibitors in preparing,” Curtiss said.
Curtiss, who grew up on and still lives on a Ballston dairy farm, has been involved with the fair for 47 years.
He remembers as a 10-year-old listening to Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon — which celebrated its 45th anniversary on Sunday — while keeping watch in the fair’s dairy barn. “I was right here, listening on the radio,” he recalled.
The fair will be open 9 a.m. to midnight daily, with the carnival midway open from noon to midnight.
General admission is $10 each day, with special gate premiums being offered today, Wednesday and Thursday. Parking in fair lots is free.
Today’s admission includes a free beach bag; Wednesday, a free insulated 16-ounce mug. Wednesday is also Senior Citizens Day; admission is $5 for those 65 and older until 5 p.m. On Thursday, admission includes a free six-pack cooler. There are 5,000 of each; the offer’s good until the supply runs out.
Admission all week is free to active duty military members with ID, though not members of their families.
Children — at least those under 52 inches tall — are also admitted to the fair free all week.
The fair’s entertainment lineup this year includes “The Magic of Agriculture” Agricadabra Magic Show, the Alaskan Grizzly Experience, chain saw artist Brian Ruth, Rosaire’s Royal Racing Pigs, comedy hypnotist Brad Matchett and a petting zoo.
The grandstand shows will include the Double M Western Pro Rodeo on today and Wednesday; demolition derby on Thursday and Sunday; tractor pulls on Friday, and truck pulls on Saturday.
The Fair Pageant is held today, and talent contests will be conducted daily.
Bands performing in the music pavilion nightly from 7 p.m. to midnight include bluesman Rhett Tyler tonight; Big Sky Country Band on Wednesday; Skeeter Creek on Thursday and Friday; Whiskey City on Saturday; and Jet Crash Billy on Sunday.
Agricultural departments include cattle, draft and saddle horses, goats, bees and honey, farm produce, flowers, culinary, home arts, fine arts, antiques, talent show, sheep, education, Grange, 4-H and conservation.
For those concerned about animal contact, there are free sanitizing stations at animal exhibit areas throughout the fairgrounds.
For more information, the fair website is www.saratogacountyfair.org or the fair office phone is 885-9701.