By CHUCK BARTELS
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Fried Kool-Aid on a stick, livestock shows, carnival games and a troupe of performing baboons await patrons of the Arkansas State Fair, organizers said of the annual event, which opens Friday.
For the first time in more than a decade, the Little Rock fairgrounds will feature a roller coaster among its spinning and twisting rides — sure to be a challenge to keep all that fair food from reappearing. Who would want to lose a roast beef sundae?
Fair director Ralph Shoptaw said one culinary innovation offered this year is Oreos, funnel cakes and Kool-Aid, all deep-fried and on a stick.
But fear not, unadventurous eaters: “We have the traditional stuff too — corn dogs and pineapple whip ice cream,” Shoptaw said.
More than 400,000 people are expected to attend the fair during its run through Oct. 21. The fair opens daily at 11 a.m.
Jim Youker of Raleigh, N.C., will sell quart tumblers of regular and flavored lemonade, including bacon, a recipe he said took a while to perfect.
Youker said he tried infusing simple syrup with his own bacon flavoring but the quality was inconsistent. Youker somehow found a commercial supplier of the flavoring, and the drink was born.
“You only need half a squirt,” he said as he offered samples during a fair preview. The smoky flavor lingers, but refills for those with a taste for it are $4, a dollar cheaper than the first quart.
Food and fast-moving rides aren’t the only attractions. The baboon act, Wild About Monkeys, will have three shows daily, alternating with pig races and Welde’s Big Bear Show, which features performing grizzly bears.
Shoptaw said there are about 7,000 animals entered in an array of blue-ribbon competitions with between 3,500 and 4,000 exhibitors. In the barns, patrons can find cattle, sheep, pigs, horses, rabbits, chickens and goats. There are also about 4,000 entries in the arts and crafts divisions.
Fair admission includes nightly entertainment that ranges from country performers to a Pink Floyd tribute band and classic rock acts. Daily admission is $8 for adults, $4 for children; ride coupons cost extra. Tickets for professional bull riding at Barton Coliseum on Oct. 19 and 20 start at $10.
The fair also has two museums, one devoted to the fair itself and one on rock ‘n’ roll music, which features memorabilia from acts from years past.
Shoptaw said state police and Little Rock police will provide security on the grounds, with Pulaski County Sheriff’s deputies patrolling on horseback.
New this year, 34 Little Rock police officers will be on foot patrol in the neighborhoods around the fairgrounds, as residents have complained about car break-ins and other crime in the past.
Fair organizers had sought to move to new grounds, scoping out sites near Jacksonville and Cabot. But in June, they accepted a $3 million offer from Little Rock to keep the fair on about 100 acres in the central part of the city, where the fair has operated since the 1940s.
Under the new plan, the grounds could double in size and add parking in the years ahead.