Corn dogs, cows and crowds made their way back to the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds in Turlock on Friday for opening day of the fair’s Summer of Fun — a different approach to one of the area’s most popular events after a year of closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While this year’s Stanislaus County Fair is taking place without rides or exhibits, CEO Matt Cranford said the organization crammed as much fun as they could into three weekends featuring favorite fair foods, pop-up shops, FoodMaxx Arena events and livestock shows. After COVID restrictions kept Cranford and company guessing for months, they were finally able to begin planning once guidelines were relaxed and had just six weeks to do so, he said.
“We don’t have the full fair here, but we’ve got enough to make it fun to come out and have a good time,” Cranford said. “Nothing’s been the same for the last year and a half, so you’ve got to ease back into it. Come out, have a good time and you'll remember what you missed so much about the fair last year and it will get you ready for next year.”
The Stanislaus County Fair plans to return in full force come 2022, but there’s still plenty to enjoy this summer, from funnel cakes and cinnamon rolls to championship goats and destruction derbies. Modesto residents Carlie Martinho and Leila Laurenzo came to the fair to get a sense of normalcy again, they said, after missing out on the event last year.
“It was unexpected, and it was a little bit weird not to be here having fun at the fair,” Martinho said.
“It’s better this year,” Laurenzo said. “I wish there were rides, but I still think it’s good.”
Pitman High School alum Blake Zimmer has shown cows at the fair since he was nine years old, and he was glad to be back this summer after finishing his senior year in May. Last summer, Zimmer and other students showed their livestock via a virtual format.
“It hasn’t been that different since we’re all here for the cows. We do this all for the cows and it’s our passion. Nothing really changes, just some of the guidelines have affected us,” Zimmer said, noting that some of the livestock shows take place over a shorter length of time this year. “Last year was very different for me; I wasn’t too fond of it because I like being in the ring with everyone seeing the cows.”
Zimmer was happy to see smiling faces back at the fairgrounds on Friday, he added.
“It’s definitely heartwarming,” he said. “I’ve seen some kids come through while I was washing my cow, and seeing the look on their face made it all worth it. I do it for the kids.”
While visitors to the fair likely won’t see the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department’s Mounted Unit and their horses on scene this year, Sheriff Jeff Dirkse assured the public that his deputies are still on hand to keep patrons safe. Dirkse said it’s been exciting to see the community out and about at different events again, including the fair, after a year and a half of social distancing.
“This is just that iconic summer event for Stanislaus County — and many counties — but we need to get back out there, remember what it is we do and what we like about Stanislaus County and our home,” Dirkse said.
While entrance to the fair is free this year for those looking to indulge on fair food and shop amongst the fair’s various vendors, tickets must be purchased for arena events this year, which include the tractor pulls, destruction derby, monster trucks and dirt drags.
Jody Overcash of Hickman and Tina Tablock of Salida said they’d been waiting months to enjoy a cold beer at the tractor pulls again, and were finally able to do so on Friday evening. To that, they had just one thing to say:
The Stanislaus County Fair will run from July 9-11, July 16-18 and July 23-25 this year. The Fair Food Bites stations will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays. Free parking is available for all patrons in the North Parking Lot off of Soderquist Road or North Broadway.
Tickets for arena events can be purchased online at www.stancofair.com. Additionally, the first 250 people to bring a new unwrapped toy to an Arena Series event will receive one free general admission ticket to that evening’s event as part of the Salvation Army’s Christmas in July toy drive.