It's a tough question: what to do first?
A 166-page book lists a gazillion (well, a whole bunch of) things to do at the Lucas County Fair, opening this week for a six-day run.
A handful of highlights: watch the fair’s first-ever mud-bogging event; take a peek inside the Insect Hotel; try your hand at milking Buckeye Bessie; scream yourself silly at Terror Town, listen to the Wanna Bees during a Kids’ Day show designed to get the family a-movin’ and a-groovin’.
Tradition — sprouting from the acres of exhibits, arenas, livestock and merchant buildings, the fairway and midway — is a primary return factor, bringing people back year after year.
OK, sure: freshly made, sugar-dusted funnel cakes tug some folks to the fair for its sweet streak of concession stands.
The 155th annual Lucas County Fair opens Tuesday and runs through Sunday at the fairgrounds, 1406 Key St., Maumee, where crews have been tackling such tasks as tugging taut anchor lines for the super-sized, red-and-white striped tent where entertainers will perform.
An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people are expected to attend the fair this year, said Dennis Lange, a fair board director. Many attendees are participants in one way or another.
In recent weeks, a steady stream of area residents popped into the fair office to register their homemade or homegrown exhibits.
On a recent once-again-it’s-raining day (mud bogging, indeed), Jacob Bortel, 12, of Toledo waited patiently to submit his form for his culinary creations: monster cookies and apple crisp.
“We’re going to practice this weekend,” he said. “Monster cookies are the easiest to make. I made some and my friends loved them. They said I should enter them at the fair.”
His friend, Cody Keller, 8, of Maumee has volunteered as a taste tester.
Son of Stacy and Brian Bortel, Jacob knows his way around a mixing bowl, spatula, and 350-degree oven. He’s made chocolate chip cookies and a one-egg cake, plus pudding and some dog treats. When he realizes the fair starts this week, it’s a “yikes” moment, but he’s confident he’ll finish baking in time to vie for a blue ribbon.
Lisa Smithmyer, who lives near Swanton, stopped by the office to purchase a fair membership pass.
“I took animals here for 11 years,” she said, noting that she later served on the fair board and was a 4-H adviser.
Now, she’s a 4-H adviser in Fulton County, where her children compete at the fair near Wauseon.
“But I still like to come back here because this is where I grew up,” she said.
“I come back because of tradition.”
Generations of fair-goers jostle down the midway memory lane, reminiscing and recalling “Remember when...”
“There is such nostalgia and history in our fair. We’ve been nostalgic for 155 years. We’re up there in years. Fairs have been around almost as long as the country itself,” said Mr. Lange, a resident of Toledo’s Old West End.
Certainly, times change. Today, fairs and farms are foreign to some children who have no clue that chickens lay eggs, that french fries are made from potatoes that grow underground, or that chocolate milk does not come from brown cows.
Reasons all for the importance of such exhibits as Baby Animal Land — an area where, according to the fair book, you can “meet and get up close to our farm animal friends that are found on our local farms. Learn their real names. Learn about agriculture ... what it is ... what it means to you and how it helps our economy. Before pizza, ice cream, and other foods get to our stores, it must all first come from a farm.”
Mr. Lange noted the popularity of a relatively new competition where upward of 60 people present their best homemade wines and beers for judging. It’s a fine fit for the fair.
“The hops, the grapes — it all comes from farmland,” he said.
Fair week sows seeds of interest in agriculture and horticulture, and puts down roots for the next generations, Mr. Lange said.
“A lot of it, it’s about education. It’s about a process that teaches values and volunteerism,” he said. “These are values kids need to learn. This is the way to do it. Capture their attention, get them involved and doing good.”
After months of hard work, such as for 4-H members, the fair is a much-awaited week of fun, of camaraderie, he said. “It’s about making memories to take with you.”
Contact Janet Romaker at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6006.