Clay County Fair’s 11 days of family-friendly indulgence just around the corner

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GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The first truck of wooden horses, nuts and bolts arrived at the Clay County Fairgrounds early Tuesday. Within minutes, the Merry-Go-Round was taking shape.

The work served as a perfect backdrop as county officials and friends of the fair filed into the Cattleman’s Arena for an annual luncheon to honor volunteers and scholarship winners.

The property is quickly being transformed into a playground that’s expected to attract more than 150,000 music, rides, funnel cakes and livestock fans during an 11-day run that starts on March 31.

Signs were going up. Ticket booths and sheds were being built. Haybales were being delivered. And the countdown sign on State Road 16 moved to single digits last Wednesday.

Deggeller Attractions is in charge of the rides. According to CEO Andy Deggeller, smaller county fairs have enjoyed larger crowds this year. He expects Clay County to be the biggest of his company’s springtime schedule.

“We had a record year last year and it looks like this year will be bigger,” he said. “People are happy to be out again.”

And have fun.

The Clay County Agricultural Fair is just around the corner. Get your sunscreen, big appetites and dancing boots ready. Goats, bunnies, fireworks, deep-fried Oreos and banjo players will be here soon.

The fair has never been on more solid ground. It has evolved into a showcase that attracts patrons from all over Northeast Florida and Southern Georgia. The list of concerts is diverse to appease any musical taste. The rides are tall and thrilling. And the food … oh the food. Weight watchers be damned.

It’s not just the sights and sounds that have made the fair so popular. It’s how it serves the community. It’s not a once-a-year gathering designed to shake the last dollar from your pocket. It’s more of a night of indulgence that requires no apologies. Where else can you eat a giant turkey leg or hamburger on a donut – often at the same time – without regret?

The fair pure fun. And Clay County is better for it.

Success is the result of a lot of hard work. Volunteers spend hundreds of hours working all year to make the 11 days the best of the year.

Hyder is the mastermind of the entire project. Her energy is only matched by her imagination. She took a couple of steps from the traditional country music lineups for a more-diverse list of acts. Her vision was rewarded last year with a sellout of the Vanilla Ice show for what became the largest crowd to watch a fair concert.

This year’s lineup includes Nelly, Sublime with Rome, Split*Tone Quiet Riot and Warrant embedded in a lineup that’s still country-heavy.

Another one of Hyder’s ingenious moves a year ago was the addition of speed dating on the Ferris wheel. It was so popular, it will be back this year.

The Clay County Agricultural Fair will be in good hands the next five years after Hyder was given a new five-year contract and a promotion. Usually, such jobs are three-year hitches and the county was smart to lock her up for two extra years. If it were up to me, I’d consider giving her an extension as soon as possible. Tasha Hyder makes the wheels go-‘round – literally.

The fair association gave away more than $30,000 in scholarships on Tuesday to high school and college students to enhance their agricultural-centered education. The fair also expands its boundaries by taking exhibits to local schools, including Shadowlawn Elementary in Middleburg on Monday morning.

In return, the Clay County School District will allow students to attend the fair during the day on April 8 as part of its Student Fair Day.

“One of the biggest questions we get from other fairs is how did we pull that off,” Hyder said.

Some days highlight agriculture, health, food, charitable organizations, seniors, quiet and inclusive hours for people with non-visible disabilities like autism and discounts for police, firefighters, military and teachers.

Every year, the fair is a hard act to follow. But Tasha Hyder always finds a way. Now show me the way to the bacon-wrapped caramel apple.

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