There is an intriguing, not at all unpleasant, paradox about the Maryland State Fair. On one hand, it is largely a celebration of things rural, of a more natural way of life. (Alas, a slowly fading way of life, too: Since the early 1970s, agricultural land in the state has shrunk from more than 3 million acres to 2.5 million acres, though farming remains a $400 million-a-year industry in Maryland.)
And yet the fair takes place in a congested suburb not far north of Baltimore City, reachable by light rail and a smog-shrouded interstate. Certainly the crowds expected to attend the 113th edition of the 10-day fair through Labor Day will be of the size and variety that only a large metropolitan region could generate. (The Anne Arundel County Fair in Crownsville follows the State Fair in mid-September.)
Inside the gates of the Timonium Fairgrounds, however, rural rules. From the midway teeming with games of chance and thrilling rides to the exhibition halls where the finest farm animals and home-baked goodies are on display, so much about the event has a comforting country feel to it.
A veritable cornucopia of attractions awaits, at the low cost of $4 per adult; children under the age of 12 are admitted free. While the ticket price for the 1994 fair is a dollar more than last year's, $4 for this splendid show is a great bargain.
For your four bucks, you can enjoy such perennial fair favorites as the livestock shows and sales held by members of 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America, including Anne Arundel County youngsters who will bring the cows they tend throughout the year at the U.S. Naval Academy's dairy farm in Gambrills; crafts contests and produce competitions featuring some of the most flawless fruits and vegetables grown in the Free State; the "Trial by Jury" demonstrations, in which actual Maryland judges and attorneys stage mock trials and share anecdotes, and live music and dance to please all ages.
There's more. Daily horse races at the cozy Timonium track on the south end of the fairgrounds. An "unclaimed property booth" operated by the comptroller's office. A Senior Appreciation Day this Friday, when for Maryland seniors and their grandchildren ages 17 and younger get in free. The Maryland State Fair is a wonderful way to put an exclamation point at the end of another summer. As country folk like to say, y'all come.