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Organizers in final stretch before start of the 98th Hopkinton State Fair

Shane Harvey, of Skowhegan, Maine, unpacks a few prizes while preparing the Bottle-up game for the 97th Annual Hopkinton State Fair on Wednesday, August 29, 2012. Harvey has been working fairs since 1990 and was at the fair grounds preparing for the fair's opening day on Thursday.

(John Tully/Monitor Staff)

Shane Harvey, of Skowhegan, Maine, unpacks a few prizes while preparing the Bottle-up game for the 97th Annual Hopkinton State Fair on Wednesday, August 29, 2012. Harvey has been working fairs since 1990 and was at the fair grounds preparing for the fair's opening day on Thursday. (John Tully/Monitor Staff)

Less than a month remains before tens of thousands of expected visitors – children; adults; you, possibly – make their way to Hopkinton for a nearly century-old late-summer tradition: the fair.

And with the 98th Hopkinton State Fair only weeks away, fair President Deb Curtis said organizers are busy finalizing the few remaining details for this year’s five-day event, which opens Aug. 29, ensuring that lawns have been mowed, bleachers erected and electrical outlets positioned and tested.

New events this year include quad racing on Saturday night and a “divorce course,” in which pairs of people must maneuver a passenger car through an obstacle course as quickly as possible, on Thursday. The latter is free with admission.

Beyond that will be several returning acts, such as the demolition derby, police dog demonstrations, hypnosis with Ron Diamond, Greg Frisbee’s “extreme balancing” and stunt-performing canines. Also not to be missed are daily demonstrations from Mac and The Big Cheese, a comedic outdoor cooking duo, and intermittent sets from a number of local music groups.

The fair attracts between 80,000 and 90,000 people on average, though attendance has ebbed slightly in recent years, likely a product of the recession having forced families to cut back on expenses, Curtis said. She noted, however, that few family-oriented activities are as cost-effective as the fair.

“I think the thing to stress is it’s a value pack,” Curtis said. “You pay to get in and then there’s a lot of stuff to do, whether it’s walking through the infield, seeing the animals, smelling the smoke of the chicken barbecue – there’s something for everyone.”

Though she wouldn’t divulge how much revenue the fair typically generates, Curtis stressed that all the funds are reinvested to maintain the fairgrounds and host future events.

“It just goes back into keeping the fair going,” she said.

Planning for the fair is an all-year endeavor. Curtis and other organizers meet shortly after each fair closes to assess the pros and cons of that year’s event, and to begin outlining and booking entertainment for the next year’s. The group then stays abreast of trends and new fair offerings through the fall and begins prepping the fairgrounds in the spring.

Curtis has helped plan and manage the fair for more than two and a half decades. Now in her second voluntary five-year term as president of the organization, she said she has yet to grow tired of her involvement, mostly because it hardly feels like work.

“I truly enjoy it,” she said.

Curtis said recruiting volunteer help isn’t too difficult, though coordinating with people’s various schedules is at times a challenge. Many volunteers are in fact returning faces.

“For the most part it’s a reunion,” Curtis said.

Asked which years have been the most stressful as an organizer, Curtis pointed to past election years, when candidates have made regular appearances at the fairgrounds.

“People want to get away from the day to day,” she said. “They don’t want that campaigning.”

Curtis said she doesn’t see the fair’s popularity or relevance waning any time soon. Part of the event’s importance, she said, comes in its promotion of agriculture and animal husbandry, two critical fields that have defined a large portion of the state’s past and no longer receive enough public attention.

Admission for adults is $8 Thursday and Friday, $10 Saturday and Sunday and $5 Monday. Children between the ages of 6 and 12 can attend for $5 Thursday, Friday and Monday, and $6 Saturday and Sunday. Seniors over 60 can receive a reduced admission of $7 Thursday and Friday. Children under 5 get in for free, and parking costs $3. For more information, visit hsfair.org.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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