How to get the most out of the Alaska State Fair

zhollander@adn.comAugust 21, 2013 

PALMER -- The Alaska State Fair starts Thursday, that annual late-summer homage to carnival rides, donut hamburgers, and the monster vegetables of the Matanuska Valley.

Rock out to Foreigner, laugh at Bill Cosby, unearth replicas of King Tut's Treasures, show off that moose call or just ogle a giant kohlrabi that looks more like a pineapple ate a bowling ball, all against Chugach Mountain views. Weather permitting.

"I've been to lots of fairs in the 25 years I've been doing this," said Pamella Meekin, the fair's vendor and exhibits manager. "I think we have the most unique offerings."

As always, there's something new to tantalize the estimated 300,000 people who make their way to the fairgrounds between opening day and Sept. 2. Thanks to what fair marketing manager Dean Phipps calls a "paradigm shift" to schedule big-name performers at some public venues, live music fans can check out legendary guitarist Nokie Edwards, country rockers Pure Prairie League and several other choice selections for free.

Dozens of new booths also join the 475 vendors selling food and wares, including Celestial Dragon Massage on the Yellow Trail and Howling Wolf Furs on Purple.

One fair familiar isn't going anywhere. The forecast does call for some rain.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of this year's fair.


Last year, hours of traffic gridlock resulted when a sunny Saturday conspired with the draw of Big & Rich concert and a free-kids' day to generate record crowds estimated at 50,000. This year, there are two transportation options aimed at avoiding traffic: a more affordable ride on the Alaska Railroad and a Mat-Su shuttle service provided by MASCOT.

The railroad has dropped its fare down to $12 for an adult round-trip from Anchorage, weekends only. The 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. trains from Anchorage to Palmer are already sold out for both weekends but as of Wednesday, there was still limited space on the 4:30 p.m. trains. For more information, call (907) 265-2494 or (800) 554-0552.

MASCOT will provide bus service from Palmer and Wasilla. The service runs on weekdays only. For more information, go to or call (907) 864-5000.


Take 40,000 people all trying to Facebook that picture of their heads next to the giant pumpkin and what do you get? Slow smart phones. Telecommunications providers offer some relief by bringing their own COWs to the fair. Not the bovine kind, but a Cellsite on Wheels, a contraption that looks like a small, mobile steel communications tower.

AT&T will bring out a COW to accommodate "increased wireless network demands from high concentrations of smartphone users," as AT&T spokesman Andy Colley put it. "The COW will help improve reliability and data speeds."

MTA also parks a COW directly across from the fairgrounds, according to its Wireless Product Manager, Cassandra Palmer. The mobile cellular site provides additional circuits and voice channels to boost capacity to meet the needs of fair goers and vendors, Palmer said.

ACS and GCI are also boosting their networks for the fair.

Once your smart phone's zipping along, try out the Alaska State Fair app, free and available for Apple, iOS and Android smart phones and tablets. The fair also offers a new feature on its website - - where users can plan their daily schedules.


Come hear some real-deal live music -- for free. A number of musical acts will be playing for no charge at the Alyeska Pipeline Colony Stage, the Heineken Stage at the Woodlot or the Sluice Box bar. Musicians involved include Pure Prairie League, the Young Dubliners, surf-guitar aficionado Nokie Edwards, Scottish "The Voice" runner-up Terry McDermott, and John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirty Band. Check the fair program for details, or to go the fair's Web site. The move to free music is intentional, according to the fair's marketing manager, Dean Phipps. If the crowds like it, the fair might consider putting up a big tent for a multi-band program or even build a new, bigger Sluice Box. Also free: the always-popular fireworks show at 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23.


It wouldn't be the Alaska State Fair without the freakishly large produce. All giant vegetable weigh-offs happen in the Farm Exhibits Building - the giant barn next to the Yellow Trail. The Alaska Midnight Sun Great Pumpkin Weigh-Off is at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27. The granddaddy of all monster produce competitions, the 18th Annual Giant Cabbage Weigh-Off, happens at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30. Large crucifers also factor into a fundraiser for the Palmer Rotary Club and Alaska State Fair's scholarship programs. The Palmer Rotary Cabbage Classic lets participants guess the weight of the winning cabbage. Tickets are available on the fairgrounds starting Thursday and until 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30.


For the first time this year, fairgoers on certain discount days will be asked to donate two, non-perishable items at the gate. You won't get turned away without a donation, but it's going to a good cause known as the Dream Big Food Drive, fair officials say. All donations go to Alaskan families.

• Two-Buck Thursday, Aug. 22 (Alaska Oil and Gas Association)

Donate two non-perishable food items and pay $2 for admission between noon and 2 p.m.

• MTA presents Kids' Day Friday, Aug. 23

Donate two non-perishable food items per child. Kids 12 and under get in free.

• BP presents Family Day Saturday, Aug. 24

Donate two non-perishable food items per child. Kids 12 and under get in free.

On Alaska Grown Day, Thursday Aug. 29, fair goers wearing their Alaskan Grown T-shirts get a $2 discount. Military-discounted daily admission tickets - $10 for adults and $6 for youth or senior - are available on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson at Information Tickets and Travel. Or get two tickets for the price of one: pick up a Coca-Cola Buddy Days coupon at any Holiday Store and bring it to the fair between noon and 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 27 and Aug. 28. Carnival tickets from noon to 5 p.m. those days are also two for one.


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