The N.C. State Fair draws big crowds

The first North Carolina State Fair opened in 1853 but closed from 1861 to 1868 for the Civil War, reopening in 1869.

The 2018 N.C. State Fair opened a day late, thanks to Tropical Storm Michael, but continues through Sunday October 21 in Raleigh.

RALEIGH — Ticket takers and vendors were all smiles Monday afternoon at the N.C. State Fair, where good weather and high attendance so far meant a likely successful 2018 fair.

“You have to try the key lime pie ice cream at Howling Cow,” said one volunteer as she greeted visitors streaming into Gate 8 on Monday morning.

The North Carolina State Fair got underway Friday, albeit a day late due to Hurricane Michael moving through the Triangle area. At the Tobacco Pavilion, State Fair manager Kent Yelverton and North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler officially cut the ribbon to the 151st State Fair, kicking off ten days of activities and demonstrations, plus games and more than 120 rides that make North Carolina’s fair one of the largest mobile midways in North America.

“My favorite thing to do is to first take the State Fair Flyer across the fairgrounds and pick out what I’m going to do next, and if you want to pin me down to my favorite food, good luck,” said Yelverton in an interview on Thursday before opening day.

While the young and young at heart gravitate to the rides, food and carnival games, the cooking contests and giant vegetable competitions always draw the leisurely crowd. Ben Chapman, associate professor and food safety specialist, oversees the food competition and up to 1,400 entries.

“My focus is on food safety,” said Chapman. “Our judges can’t just be taste testers. The process of food science is crucial here. If that pickle isn’t crunchy, our judges are going to know the science of why.”

This year, Christi Broadway of Raleigh won first place and $250 in the N.C. Sweet Potato Commission’s Sweet Potato Tailgating contest for her sweet potato breakfast casserole (her recipe is at

A 1,551.5-pound pumpkin grown by Chris Rodebaugh of Lewisburg, W. Va. and a watermelon weighing 327.5 pounds grown by Christopher Kent of Sevierville, Tenn. took the top prizes in the N.C. State Fair’s Great Pumpkin and Watermelon WeighOff. Both entries shattered previous North Carolina State Fair records.

Troxler and Livestock Show director Neil Bowman also inducted three into the N.C. State Fair Livestock Hall of Fame. This year’s inductees are Thurman Ross Batten Jr. of Selma, Robert G. Hardin III of Statesville and Clarence Jennings of Camden. The honor comes for their work in the beef cattle, dairy cattle, and sheep and goat industry.

Every year at the fair, the most outrageous food gets attention. One year it was the Krispy Kreme burger — it’s available again this year and comes in at 1,500 calories. This year though, the chatter was about “unicorn bacon.” This is a skewer of thick-cut bacon painted with melted purple icing and sprinkled with sweet cereal pieces.

“I’m not sure about that,” said Abby Ray of Raleigh, who took a bite and decided to pass on it.

There are also some new attractions this year including an alligator wrestler and the Canine Stars Stunt dog show featuring freestyle frisbee disc, flyball racing, high jumping and dog agility, featuring all dogs rescued or adopted from shelters.

“We also brought back the lumberjacks,” said Yelverton. The Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show features axe-throwing, chainsaw carving, log rolling and a message about forest conservancy.

Also new this year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has a booth set up to help those impacted by Hurricane Florence.

Returning this year is the Homegrown Music Fest with more than 100 artists with North Carolina ties. Performing on three stages artists include Rhett and Link: Live in Concert, RaeLynn with Bucky Covington, the Catalinas and American Aquarium.

The centerpiece of the fairgrounds is Dorton Arena, a 5,000-seat facility with a midcentury design by Polish architect Maciej Nowicki, head of N.C. State’s School of Architecture. According to N.C. State, Nowicki died in an airplane crash before the building was constructed, but he left detailed sketches and plans that were brought into reality by local builder William Henley Deitrick in 1952.

Wednesday, Oct. 17 is Military Appreciation Day offering $6 discounted tickets to military members presenting valid military I.D.  Wednesday is also Hunger Relief Day, which provides free admission with a food donation. The N.C. State Fair runs through Sunday, Oct. 21.