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How to get the most out of the Alaska State Fair

Zaz Hollander
The Kenai Peninsula Racing Pigs performed at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013. Lara McGinnis said the racing pigs "were back by popular demand keeping the crowd hog wild."
Bill Roth
The Kenai Peninsula Racing Pigs performed at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013. Lara McGinnis said the racing pigs "were back by popular demand keeping the crowd hog wild."
Bill Roth
Bacon Bits, left, and Kevin Bacon sprint towards the finish during the Kenai Peninsula Racing Pigs event at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013. Lara McGinnis said the racing pigs "were back by popular demand and keeping the crowd hog wild."
Bill Roth
Bacon Bits, left, and Kevin Bacon sprint towards the finish during the Kenai Peninsula Racing Pigs event at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013. Lara McGinnis said the racing pigs "were back by popular demand and keeping the crowd hog wild."
Bill Roth
The Kenai Peninsula Racing Pigs performed at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013. Lara McGinnis said the racing pigs "were back by popular demand keeping the crowd hog wild."
Bill Roth
Airah Cude, 9, and Aurie Medina, 8, braved a ride on The Ejection Seat during the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Airah Cude, 9, left, and Aurie Medina, 8, braved a ride on The Ejection Seat during the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Cavallo Equestrian Arts performance at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Cavallo Equestrian Arts performance at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Cavallo Equestrian Arts performance at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Cavallo Equestrian Arts performance at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Kaylee McKinney, 9, stands near the winning giant cabbages at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
The winning giant pumpkins were on display at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth
Kendra Duffy, Katrina McClure and Emily Gibson ride the Sizzler at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
The Alaska State Fair features a wide variety of event, exhibits and foods. The weather was mixed on Thursday, August 29, 2013.
Mary Steiert
The Alaska State Fair features a wide variety of event, exhibits and foods. The weather was mixed on Thursday, August 29, 2013.
Mary Steiert
Haylee Snegirev holds Sprout the purebred Nigerian dwarf goat, which belongs to Jaida Vroman, at right, at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
The Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
The Cabbage Fairies walk the midway at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
The Alaska State Fair features a wide variety of event, exhibits and foods. The weather was mixed on Thursday, August 29, 2013.
Mary Steiert
The train ride needs some work at tthe Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
The Alaska State Fair features a wide variety of event, exhibits and foods. The weather was mixed on Thursday, August 29, 2013.
Mary Steiert
The Alaska State Fair features a wide variety of event, exhibits and foods. The weather was mixed on Thursday, August 29, 2013.
Mary Steiert
Victoria Wallace and Brandon Wallace visit the goats at the petting zoo at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
The Alaska State Fair features a wide variety of event, exhibits and foods. The weather was mixed on Thursday, August 29, 2013.
Mary Steiert
The Alaska State Fair features a wide variety of event, exhibits and foods. The weather was mixed on Thursday, August 29, 2013.
Mary Steiert
The Alaska State Fair features a wide variety of event, exhibits and foods. The weather was mixed on Thursday, August 29, 2013.
Mary Steiert
The Alaska State Fair features a wide variety of event, exhibits and foods. The weather was mixed on Thursday, August 29, 2013.
Mary Steiert
The Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
Aliyah Ciuz, from Anaheim, CA, tries out a hula-hoop at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
Tenvjin Horsey, from Palmer, and his reindeer Scrappy won the Reserve Champion ribbon at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
Haylee Snogirev, from Palmer, and her reindeer Oscar won a blue ribbon at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
Ashleena Roberts, from Palmer, and her reindeer Benjamin won the Grand Champion ribbon at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK. Roberts is a member of the Pioneer Peak 4H Club in Palmer.
Bob Hallinen
Isolde Medema visits with a pair of calves in the petting zoo at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
The Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
The Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
The Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
The Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
Ashleena Roberts, from Palmer, and her reindeer Benjamin won the Grand Champion ribbon at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK. Roberts is a member of the Pioneer Peak 4H Club in Palmer.
Bob Hallinen
Jeffrey Melendez photographs his 1-year old daughter Juliana with the giant pumpkins on display at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
Jack Middleton, Baylee Middleton and Miles Middleton play the ring toss game at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK. The Middletons are from Wasilla, AK.
Bob Hallinen
Isolde Medema visits with a pair of calves in the petting zoo at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
Jesse Kitson of Soldotna hangs on for 8 seconds in the bull riding competition of the rodeo Saturday, August 24, 2013 at the Alaska State Fair.
Shannon Greene
A bull rider comes out of the chutes during the rodeo Saturday, August 24, 2103, at the Alaska State Fair.
Shannon Greene
Billy Rutherford ropes a calf during the rodeo Saturday, August 24, 2103 at the Alaska State Fair.
Shannon Greene
Barrel rider Tamie Vickers of Chugiak gives her painted horse, Emmy, some attention before her ride Saturday, August 24, 2103 at the Alaska State Fair.
Shannon Greene
Dan Wagner at his Howling Wolf Furs booth at the Alaska State Fair on Friday, August 23, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
Kelsey Ingram and two of his workers Sherri Mulhaney and Jennifer Bolinder pose for the photo at the Alaska Soda Jerk booth at the Alaska State Fair on Friday, August 23, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
Tweedle Dum, played by Tyler Browning and other characters have a pie eating contest at the Alaska State Fair on Friday, August 23, 2013 in Palmer, AK.
Bob Hallinen
Lady Shriner Roberta Uhl walks the midway in the rain at the Alaska State Fair on Thursday, August 2013.
Bob Hallinen
3 year old Kali Guy from Wasilla rides the merry-go-round at the Alaska State Fair on Thursday, August 2013.
Bob Hallinen
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News The Alaska State Fair on Friday, August 21, 2013 in Palmer, AK. 130821
Bob Hallinen
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News The Alaska State Fair on Friday, August 21, 2013 in Palmer, AK. 130821
Bob Hallinen
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News The Alaska State Fair on Friday, August 21, 2013 in Palmer, AK. 130821
Bob Hallinen
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News Theresa Cooley, Aubrey Hickel and Katy Struempler enjoy the Tilt-A-Whirl at the Alaska State Fair on Friday, August 21, 2013 in Palmer, AK. 130821
Bob Hallinen
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News Robin Struempler, Shaun Cooley and Jeannette Cooley enjoy the Tilt-A-Whirl at the Alaska State Fair on Friday, August 21, 2013 in Palmer, AK. 130821
Bob Hallinen
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News Chris Williams and Rhyan Carinio sport new hairdos at the Alaska State Fair on Friday, August 21, 2013 in Palmer, AK. 130821
Bob Hallinen
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News Willie Emry works the Gravitron ride for Golden Wheel Amusements at the Alaska State Fair on Friday, August 21, 2013 in Palmer, AK. 130821
Bob Hallinen
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News The Alaska State Fair on Friday, August 21, 2013 in Palmer, AK. 130821
Bob Hallinen
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News The Alaska State Fair on Friday, August 21, 2013 in Palmer, AK. 130821
Bob Hallinen
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News The Alaska State Fair on Friday, August 21, 2013 in Palmer, AK. 130821
Bob Hallinen
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News The Alaska State Fair on Friday, August 21, 2013 in Palmer, AK. 130821
Bob Hallinen
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News The Alaska State Fair on Friday, August 21, 2013 in Palmer, AK. 130821
Bob Hallinen
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News Rain in the morning, sunshine in the afternoon and hail in the evening greeted fun seekers at the Alaska State Fair on Friday, August 21, 2013. 130821
Bob Hallinen
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily New Mike Stephan and Travis Cooper rest against a tire of one of the Antique Power Club of Alaska's tractors as they wait for the kids to finish up in the petting zoo in the live stock barn at the Alaska State Fair on Thursday, August 2013.
Bob Hallinen
The fairgrounds are fairly unpopulated just before the opening of the fair Thursday, August 22. The view from one of the ferris wheels at the 2013 Alaska State Fair reveals the fairgrounds with the cloudy Chugach Mountains in the distance.
Shannon Greene
One of the competitors of the Lumberjack Show reacts after getting an early lead in the sawing contest at the 2013 Alaska State Fair, Thursday, August 22.
Shannon Greene
Sylvester was one of many gerbils to participate in the Elks Charity Rat Race at the 2013 Alaska State Fair, Thursday, August 22. The gerbils will be available for adoption after the fair.
Shannon Greene
Baby goats are an attraction at the Petting Zoo at the 2013 Alaska State Fair, Thursday, August 22.
Shannon Greene
First-day fair goers check out the King Tut: Artifacts from the Pharaoh's Tomb exhibit at the Don Sheldon Events Center Thursday, August 22, 2013. The Alaska State Fair runs through September 2.
Bill Roth
Karianne Oudman and Coleen Harrier unload vegetables for the Bushes Bunchs stand at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. The vegetables will be cut up to make veggie packs with dipping sauce. Oudman is the farm manager for Bushes Bunchs and Harrier normally works in the fields but is running the produce part of the stand during the fair. The Fair opens on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at noon.
Bob Hallinen
Gavin Korin enjoys some ice cream while the adults work on the Alaska Soda Jerk stand at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. The Fair opens on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at noon.
Bob Hallinen
Ty Tobias, with the Southcentral Alaska Beekeepers Association judges honey at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. The honey is judged on smell, taste, clarity, moisture content and presentation. The Fair opens on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at noon.
Bob Hallinen
Jacob Bivens changes light bulbs on the Whirlwind ride at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. Golden Wheel Amusement workers are putting the final touches on the rides for the fair opening. The Fair opens on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at noon.
Bob Hallinen
Kelsey Ingram at his Alaska Soda Jerk stand at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. The Fair opens on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at noon.
Bob Hallinen
Carol McNamara and Rachel Overby put up signs at McNamara's Kernal Mac's Popcorn stand at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. The Fair opens on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at noon.
Bob Hallinen
Pat Tremaine, of Palmer, works on her table full of entries in the Crops, Herbs and Flowers competitions at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. Tremaine won 161 ribbons last year at the fair. This year she will not have as many entries because of the warm weather some of the flowers bloomed early and the recent rains and moose ruined some of the plants. The Fair opens on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at noon.
Bob Hallinen
Dave Anderson works on installing a light at the Porkey's Pork Chops stand at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. The Fair opens on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at noon.
Bob Hallinen
Carol McNamara and Rachel Overby put up signs at McNamara's Kernal Mac's Popcorn stand at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. The Fair opens on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at noon.
Bob Hallinen
Laura Bartholomae and Margaret Adsit put up signs at the Hoop N Hula Milk N Cookies stand at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. The Fair opens on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at noon.
Bob Hallinen
Jacob Bivens changes light bulbs on the Whirlwind ride at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. Golden Wheel Amusement workers are putting the final touches on the rides for the fair opening. The Fair opens on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at noon.
Bob Hallinen
Tammie Kerby puts up metal signs fro sale at the Bering Sea Traders stand at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. The Fair opens on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at noon.
Bob Hallinen
Steve Manning works on getting his Steve & Son Sign booth in shape at the Alaska State Fair on Wednesday, August 21, 2013. The Fair opens on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at noon.
Bob Hallinen
The Kenai Peninsula Racing Pigs performed at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013. Lara McGinnis said the racing pigs "were back by popular demand keeping the crowd hog wild."
Bill Roth
The Kenai Peninsula Racing Pigs performed at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013. Lara McGinnis said the racing pigs "were back by popular demand keeping the crowd hog wild."
Bill Roth
Bacon Bits, left, and Kevin Bacon sprint towards the finish during the Kenai Peninsula Racing Pigs event at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013. Lara McGinnis said the racing pigs "were back by popular demand and keeping the crowd hog wild."
Bill Roth
Bacon Bits, left, and Kevin Bacon sprint towards the finish during the Kenai Peninsula Racing Pigs event at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013. Lara McGinnis said the racing pigs "were back by popular demand and keeping the crowd hog wild."
Bill Roth
The Kenai Peninsula Racing Pigs performed at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013. Lara McGinnis said the racing pigs "were back by popular demand keeping the crowd hog wild."
Bill Roth
Airah Cude, 9, and Aurie Medina, 8, braved a ride on The Ejection Seat during the Alaska State Fair in Palmer on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013.
Bill Roth

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.

GETTING THERE

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 www.matsutransit.com or call (907) 864-5000.

STAYING CONNECTED

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 - http://www.alaskastatefair.org/site/ - where users can plan their daily schedules.

ROCKING OUT

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.

VEGGING OUT

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.

SAVING DOUGH

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.

 

Alaska State Fair website
By ZAZ HOLLANDER
zhollander@adn.com