SKOWHEGAN — The 196th annual Skowhegan State Fair opened Thursday, bringing people from around the state to the fairgrounds where organizers say there are more rides and a larger number of attractions than ever before in the fair’s history.

Exhibit halls opened at noon on Thursday and the midway opened at 1 p.m.

The fair continues on Friday with gates opening at 7 a.m. and runs through Saturday, Aug. 16.

“We have the biggest midway we’ve had in years and a lot more rides than we’ve ever had,” said Mel Blaisdell, vice president of the Skowhegan State Fair Association. “It’s supposed to be a good weekend with the weather and that’s a big help. Last year I think it rained on the first Friday.”

By early afternoon on Thursday, dozens of fairgoers were already lining up for tickets and enjoying snacks on the midway. Meanwhile, spectators flocked to barn shows, including a cart-pulling show at the barn show ring.

“It’s a pretty cool fair,” said Katie Josephs, 17, of Falmouth. “It’s nice because it’s big but also small. Everyone is friendly.”

Josephs finished fifth on Thursday in the cart-pulling contest, an event in which teamsters compete to steer cattle through a series of obstacles. The competition was open to senior members of the 4-H, a youth organization with an emphasis on agricultural activities.

For many, such as Chelsea Bean and her father Douglas Bean, of South Paris, Skowhegan is just one stop on a state-wide fair circuit this summer. The family has already shown their cattle at fairs in Topsham, Bangor, Monmouth, Cumberland and Pittston, to name a few.

“It’s fun. This is how I’ve met a lot of my friends, is through the fairs,” said Chelsea Bean, 15, who finished third on Thursday with her pair of cattle named Jim and Jerry.

Tradition is an important part of the fair for many, including Bean, a fourth-generation teamster, and others like Curtis Prime, an Augusta goat farmer, who says he has been coming to the fair since he was an infant and was exhibiting over a dozen Boer goats on Thursday.

“It’s been quiet so far, but people are still setting up,” said Prime, 67. “The weather makes a huge difference. If it’s good weather, the people will come.”

There are also some new events at the fair this year, according to Blaisdell, including wrestling shows, laser tag and a safari zoo that will include tigers, gorillas and camels.

“There are a lot more things for kids,” said Blaisdell. “But then again, everyone is a kid at the fair.”

Fair admission is free for children under five. Parking is $4 per car. Ride bracelets cost $15 per person per day. Gate admission is $8 on Aug. 11, 12, 13 and 14; gate admission is $10 on Aug. 8, 9, 10, 15 and 16.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

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