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I already miss the Fair, but I have smarter game plan for future


GREEN COVE SPRINGS – I already miss the steak tips, Amish doughnuts and fried dough. I can’t wait to pet baby goats again, or hear the squelching sounds from thrilling rides like Hang 10 or Spaceport or see the excitement of children going down the Super Slide.

I took a different approach to the Clay County Agricultural Fair this year. Instead of gorging myself on fudge, Italian sausage subs, loaded fries and pretzel dogs, I explored areas I had overlooked in the previous four years. And I was amazed.

This year was the first time I visited the Early Florida Village. And after Day 1, I spent at least an hour there every day.

Not only was it educational to see how things were done at the turn of the century, but it was also a great place to sit in the shade and people-watch. More than 1,000 families toured the small town. The most popular spot was a checker board and two chairs in front of the Cracker House. Sometimes, the simplest of pleasures are the most lasting. The Fair truly is family-friendly.

You also realize how strollers have changed since I was a child and my children were young. Ours were simple: a seat with four wheels. Today’s strollers are rolling condominiums. The only thing missing are satellite dishes.

It was fun to watch the strolling acts, like Lew-E’s Circus, Hilby: The Skinny German Juggle Boy, Dennis the Rodeo Clown, Mike Weakley’s Stilt Fun, the Fritters and especially the Robocars. How those two can twist and contort themselves from being a car to a two-legged robot defied human kinetics.

This was the first year I attended one of the concerts. I went to the Tyler Farr, Chapel Hart and Grace Tyler show on Day 2. Chapel Hart was amazing. Hopefully, the fair will bring them back as a headliner. They’re that good.

I returned for Day 7’s final show featuring the Oak Ridge Boys during their “American Made: Farewell Tour.” I had forgotten how many big hits they had back in the 1980s. The only problem was after the show, it took me five days to get “Elvira” out of my head. Rats, there it goes again.

The nice surprise was at the J.P. Hall Livestock Barn. I spent hours looking at the animals and watching teens grooming their entries for shows. To them, it was more than a competition. It was personal. You truly understand why the word “Agricultural” is prominent in the name of the Fair and why it always will be.

In 11 days, I also got a better lay of the land and the routine. The hard work of the Fair Association paid off with five daily attendance records and an overall record.

But here are some secrets for future Fairs – and you should come back and explore everything the Fair offers.

Crowds and traffic start to build shortly after school hours. The difference between arriving at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. can be as much as two to four miles of traffic.

Another hint I learned when I worked at Walt Disney World (great day, has it been that long?) 50 years ago is don’t play the games when you arrive unless you want to lug a four-foot-tall Teddy bear all day. If you do win a stuffed animal early, consider taking it to your car. The extra walk is better than carrying it all day – unless you have one of those motorhome-sized strollers.

And I can’t stress enough that you should get your tickets before arriving at the Fair’s website, claycountyfair.org. You can avoid long lines on the Midway by getting your tickets – especially ride wristbands. And if you get them when the Fair offers Early Bird specials, you can save significant amount of money. A friend who took her grandchildren said she saved $120 on ride wristbands. She also didn’t have to listen to them complain while they impatiently stood in line for more than a half hour.

That half hour you save by not standing in line will give you more time to see a cow, play a game of checkers or enjoy one more corn dog.