Pig races, duck races, terrier races, goat races, hot air balloon races. All a well-reported part of the entertainment at the eighth annual Harford County Farm Fair last weekend. But what about the kid races?
I mean the races of excited youngsters through the Kidway and other small-fry attractions, trying to do as much and eat as much as their constitutions (and their free punch tickets) could endure.
The village of tents with playground activities and games and fair fun food was a parent's dream as well as a child's delight.
Over and over, I heard adults visiting the Kidway exclaim: "This is the best fair for children." The kids were too busy having fun to offer any such formal observation.
And no wonder. For most of the fair's four days, kids could actually move about and get to the events without being crushed and crowded out, without the discouraging long lines. Without the expensive task of buying strings of tickets to keep the children entertained.
The well-thought-out activities were highly accessible, and scaled to the abilities of kids of varying ages up to 12 years old.
Like the 3-year-old who wanted so badly to see the man fall into the water at the Dunk-A-Cop stand. The "barker" let her edge close enough to throw a ball through the hole and send the victim into the drink, and her into paroxysms of glee.
Or the Fish Pond, where every kid who dropped a line behind the curtain got a prize. And the Plinko game where even the littlest player was rewarded for dropping the medallions down a maze of pins to form a pattern.
And the sand box, arranged like a series of troughs, set at just the right height for smaller hands to reach and mold their granular creations.
All the child fun wasn't confined to the Kidway. There were pony rides and rides in a monster car-crushing truck Maximum Override, and llama leading (say that fast three times!) and a petting zoo that was safe and easy for children to experience. Some kids got to climb into the gondolas of the hot air balloons before they ascended for the race Thursday evening.
There were plenty of things to eat, too. How a kid can wolf down pizza, cookies, soda, peanut butter sandwich and a snow cone -- and still want more -- is something that can only be understood at a certain fleeting age.
The Kidway is operated by youth volunteers, with the generous contributions of businesses and organizations that provide the funds for the entertainments, games, prizes and concessions. The non-profit groups providing the volunteers also earn money from sponsors for their participation.
Face-painting was as big a hit with the younger crowd as it always is anywhere. Eight volunteers at a time kept busy decorating the giggling countenances of kids until closing time.
It was the only place where disappointment was heard, by the late-comers. But, as a Farm Fair veteran noted, it's the parents who are more upset than the children, who eagerly turn to the next stand.
The Kidway started seven years ago with just a face-painting table. Now it and other juvenile attractions have grown into a small fair of their own, sprawling throughout the Equestrian Center grounds.
There were 20 free amusements and food items on the children's ticket this year; repeat tries at games cost but a quarter each.
That kept the fair affordable and accessible to many families. "Last year, I ran out of money and a lot of patience before we were through," one Aberdeen mom said. "This year, it's just a lot less hassle."
Adults, too, found a lot to see and do for their $3 admission. Each year since it began in 1988, the Harford Farm Fair adds new entertainments while keeping the ones that have proven popular.
If there was a problem with the fair this year, it was the lack of available parking and inadequate signage directing parkers to the shuttle bus pickup sites. There were fewer designated parking lots than last year, and even some that were supposed to be open were "temporarily" closed when they were most needed.
In particular, shopping center lots that were used in the past were not available, nor were lots near the Post Office and the lot by the Bel Air Bypass and Vale Road. People who parked at Bel Air High wandered around the torrid asphalt lot searching for the shuttle stops.
Rain and muddy fields were cited as the cause of parking problems last year. We hope that organizers can find greater cooperation from lot owners for next year, as the crowd size continues to grow. It's a shame that the first and last impressions of some fair visitors are of parking and shuttle problems.
That aside, let me say without question that the Harford Farm Fair is the best in Maryland. Period. None of the other county and agricultural fairs offers the wide variety of fun activities and entertainments that Harford's does, while retaining the rural roots of a 4-H Club celebration.
If you need the carny games and thrill rides, and insufferable noise, the state fair in Timonium has them. But so does Hersheypark. That's not the essence of a farm fair.
Thanks and congratulations are due to thousands of volunteers and exhibitors, sponsors and contributors. No names are listed here, for it could go on for a long time.
Now if they would just let us adults have some of those kids tickets next year. . . .
Mike Burns is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Harford County.