SKOWHEGAN, Maine — When most people think of state fairs, thrilling rides, games and appetizing fried delights come to mind.
While the Skowhegan State Fair does offer all of those things, the organizers’ main emphasis is on the agricultural portion.
“The Skowhegan State Fair really concentrates on the agricultural part of the fair,” the fair’s marketing director, Denise Smith, said Thursday afternoon. “It’s a very clean fair, it’s very well-run.”
The fairgrounds were full of activity on Thursday as the 193rd fair opened for business at 7 a.m. Festivities will run through Aug. 20.
The fair is dubbed the oldest continuous running agricultural fair in North America, and Smith is hoping more than 100,000 people will pass through the gates this year.
Behind the harness racing grandstand, some African and Asian elephants along with other jungle animals drew a small yet enthusiastic crowd.
“We like to give children and families the opportunity to do something that they don’t often get to do, like see an elephant up close,” said animal trainer Justin Loomis, who is running one tiger and elephant show per day on the weekdays and two shows per day on weekends.
A Bengal and Siberian tiger also came out to play for a bit, wrestling with each other in their cages.
Loomis said elephant rides will be offered for $2 apiece.
Things were bustling in the 4-H section of the fair as well, with a 4-H Horse Show taking place during the afternoon, while agricultural director Steve Frederick has a plethora of other activities scheduled, including a 4-H Oxen Steer show and horse, ox and tractor pulling shows.
“We try to stay very diversified … to keep each person interested,” he said.
Frederick even remembers getting a call from someone in New York last summer who had planned to come to Skowhegan to see the Pelletier family of Millinocket, stars of the reality TV show “American Loggers,” participate in the truck pull.
He added that children are generally interested in seeing the large livestock, since smaller farms in Maine are becoming few and far between.
“A lot of kids, unless they come to a place like this, they don’t see animals,” he said. “They may see a horse or a cow someplace, but to see everything in [one] place [is rare].”
Scheduled opening-day activities also featured a Tribute to the Troops concert, a show honoring the U.S. military which made its debut last summer.
The concert was to begin at 7 p.m., following pre-concert ceremonies featuring American Legion motorcycle riders from Skowhegan and Madison.
“They go to a lot of the funerals, representing the fallen heroes,” said Smith.
One of the fair’s main attractions is the Truck Pull, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday, while demolition derbies will be held Friday, Monday and again on Aug. 19.
The fair also features a couple of new additions, including a Children’s Park, where magic shows will be held three times a day, while the midway has a new ride in the Vertigo, which takes riders 90 feet in the air in swings.
Admission to the fair is $4 Monday through Thursday of next week and $8 on each weekend. Those fares don’t include a $4 parking fee. Gates open daily at 7 a.m., while the midway opens at noon.
All-you-can-ride midway bracelets will cost $10 on weekdays and $14 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
For a full schedule of events, visit www.skowheganstatefair.com.