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'It's awesome': NC State Fair returns to fairgrounds, attendance rebounds

20221014 - NORTH CAROLINA STATE FAIR
Attractions at the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh pictured on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022.

The North Carolina State Fair is back — for the 154th time.

On Friday, Oct. 14 at 11 a.m., N.C. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler celebrated the first full day of the annual event by cutting a ribbon alongside fair officials and other state agriculture leaders. The fair will be open until Oct. 23. 

Giant watermelons and pumpkins, a staple each year, will be on display for the entire 11-day event. The largest pumpkin, grown by Chris Rodebaugh of West Virginia, weighed in at nearly 1,500 pounds. 

The largest watermelon, grown by Andrew Vial of Liberty, is 306 pounds — making it the third largest watermelon in the world this year, according to a press release from the fair.

The fair also held its second annual accessABILITY Day on Oct. 16, which makes attending more accessible for people with disabilities by having vendors and rides turn off lights and sounds and offering areas with low lighting and soft music.

This year's fair features dozens of new foods, five new rides and the N.C. State Fair Bacon Trail, which highlights the 42 vendors serving some form of bacon.

Second-time fairgoer Sam Eaton said he loves the rides, especially the ones that are high off the ground.

"I'm terrified of heights, but it's awesome," Eaton said.

Morgan Crotty, who went to the fair with Eaton, said she was not a fan of the rides, but she enjoys the candy apples and stuffed animals around the fairgrounds.

She said she tries to attend every year as a tradition but hadn't for the past several years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, the fair returned last year to relatively smaller crowds. Last year, 824,328 people attended over 11 days, the lowest total since 2008. The fair's highest-ever recorded total attendance was in 2010, when nearly 1.1 million people showed up.

More than 47,000 people attended the fair on Thursday, Oct. 13, the highest opening-day attendance since 2017 and nearly double last year's number. Saturday's attendance was over 115,000, an increase of more than 30,000 from last year's third-day attendance.

Mia Jones, Brianna Lee and Simone Jefferies all went to the State Fair for the first time on Friday with their friend Taylor Jones, who had attended before.

Mia Jones said her first impression of the event was that it was very crowded, but she was excited to try the fair's funnel cake. Lee said she thought the fair provided a lot of variety for rides.

"For me, I feel like it's a lot bigger than the past fair I went to in Charlotte," Jefferies said. "We were comparing it to Carowinds with how big it was."

Jefferies and Taylor Jones both said fairgoers should try as many food options as possible, and Mia Jones and Lee said other fairgoers should get on as many rides as they can.

"At least get on one ride because it'll wake you up – give you some serotonin," Lee said.

The N.C. State Fair opens daily at 9 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at midnight on Friday and Saturday. It will run until Oct. 23.

@ethanehorton1

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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Ethan E. Horton

Ethan E. Horton is the 2023-24 city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a city & state assistant editor and as the 2023 summer managing editor. Ethan is a senior pursuing a double major in journalism and media and political science, with a minor in history.