Rides go up at Harford County fair for first time

Organizers hope carnival and agricultural show will fit together

  • Carlson Boquist, left, poses for a picture with his girlfriend Caitlyn Hickey Friday. They both had their faces painted like cats during their visit to the 26th annual Harford County Farm Fair.
Carlson Boquist, left, poses for a picture with his girlfriend… (DAVID ANDERSON | AEGIS STAFF…)
July 27, 2013|By Ian Duncan, The Baltimore Sun

For the first time in the Harford County Farm Fair's quarter-century history, the squeals of racing pigs had to compete with the shrieks of children, as organizers bowed to popular demand and agreed to host a carnival.

Some people who turned up Saturday were pleasantly surprised by the addition of rides, but others, such as Val Ryan, 42, tried to keep them a secret, worried they'd prove too great a distraction to her daughters.

But the children inevitably discovered the carnival, with its Ferris wheel and spinning Paratrooper ride looming over the fairgrounds at the Harford County Equestrian Center.

Aimee O'Neill, who has been involved with the fair since its inception in 1988, said that the agricultural displays and traditions remain central to the event but that people had been asking for rides.

"We did not have a carnival for 25 years because we felt it gave us a unique position," O'Neill said.

Even after relenting, organizers made sure fairgoers have to pass by the barns of sleepy pigs and local crafts before reaching the midway, she said. O'Neill is optimistic that the rides will bring in a different crowd who might not otherwise have come to learn about rural life.

"People still get that experience that we believe is the heart of the fair," she said.

More people through the gates also means more revenue for the independent nonprofit that runs the fair.

"It's economics also. We're not going to hide that," O'Neill said.

Last year, organizers tried holding a carnival a week before the fair, but it wilted in the face of temperatures over 100 degrees.

This year's fair, which opened with a prayer breakfast on Thursday, continues throughout the weekend with dog shows, a spelling bee and cooking contests.

On Saturday afternoon there were lines for many of the rides, including the Paratrooper, which spins riders sitting in chairs suspended from metal parachutes. As they waited, Jeffrey Krider, 13, his brother Lucas, 11, and their friend Thomas Rohal, 8, said they were more excited about rides than animals.

But the fair's more traditional elements seemed to be holding up well against the competition. In the main pavilion, a large crowd gathered to watch a watermelon-eating contest, and earlier, families gathered for a pig race.

Children jumped and waved their arms as the host called out for volunteers and cheered for the pigs, which had names like Jerry Swinefeld, Obi Wan Baloney, and Britney Spare-ribs.

Erin Kelly, 34, of Bel Air said her sons, Bryce and Gavin, were most interested in "the animals, definitely the animals."

"They can do rides anytime," Kelly said.

O'Neill said that while she wants people to have fun at the fair, it's also a chance for people to learn about the world they live in and the food they eat, and to promote local farms.

"We have an excellent climate for growing," O'Neill said.

In between serving up hamburgers and burritos at the Laurrapin restaurant stand, Dennis Theriault said having rides had made a big difference to the fair but added that learning about agriculture and whirling around at high speed are not incompatible.

"The carnival pulls people in and keeps their attention," Theriault said, exposing them to what he called the Havre de Grace restaurant's mission of "farmer evangelism."



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