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Feast for the Senses
Gwinnett County Fair will run Thursday through Sept. 23

It has a signature aroma, that's for sure.

And when that pungent combination of fried food and farm animals wafts through your olfactory cavity, you know it can only mean one thing: The fair is back in town.

Practically a county institution for more than a half century and running, the Gwinnett County Fair - which opens Thursday - brings with it a certain air of country charm, bridging the gap between summer and fall with 11 straight days and nights of rides, games, livestock, live music and, of course, good eats.

It's an experience that truly offers something for everyone, said Fair Manager Dale Thurman.

"We try to offer a full-rounded entertainment package," Thurman said. "From the babies on to the grandpas and grandmas, we want something for everybody to do."

Thurman said catering to every demographic is "what a fair's all about ... from the food to the rides."

Speaking of culinary fare, Thurman said the annual event offers up a heaping helping, with options extending further than stereotypical carnival snacks like funnel cakes and hot dogs.

"We always challenge people to come out and eat your way through the fair," he said, "because we've got some good foods out here."

The edible lineup includes everything from Mexican meals to "good ol' country cookin'," he said.

Desserts are on the menu as well.

"You can come to one of the church booths and get banana pudding," he said.

For the aspiring competitive eaters out there, Thurman said Krystal will be back with a hamburger-eating contest.

"That's always fun," he said.

Thurman said he wasn't yet sure what attractions would populate the carnival portion of this year's fair, but is expecting "in the neighborhood" of 50 rides.

"The carnival we use has five different units," he said, "so they try to bring a good cross-section of rides, and we always just have to wait till they get here to see what particular rides they're bringing to us."

For animal lovers, the fair will showcase a veritable ark's worth of livestock, including many different breeds of cattle, goats, lambs and hogs.

"That's something that people living in a metropolitan area like this don't get to see," he said. "We always see the end result - we see the hamburger, we see the milk, we see all that, but we don't see where the animals come from."

With plenty to see, smell, taste and touch, the fair won't leave your ears out of the equation, either. Several music acts, including Atlanta's own Confederate Railroad, will take the stage throughout the week to entertain the crowd.

Thurman said he's seen the size of the Gwinnett County Fair increase exponentially during his tenure.

"It's grown a lot over the past 12 years I've been here," he said. "It's, I'd say, basically doubled in size in that time frame."

He attributes the event's everlasting popularity to its broad family appeal.

"That's what it's all about, is families," Thurman said.

SideBar: If You Go

What: Gwinnett County Fair

When: Sept. 13-23. On weekdays, the exhibit hall is open from 4 to 10 p.m. and the carnival runs until 11 p.m. On Saturdays, the exhibit hall is open from noon to 11 p.m. and the carnival runs until midnight. On Sundays, the exhibit hall is open from 1 to 9 p.m. and the carnival runs until 10 p.m.

Where: Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, 2405 Sugarloaf Parkway in Lawrenceville

Cost: Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for senior citizens and children ages 6 to 12, and free for children under 6. Parking is free.

Info: Call 770-963-6522 or visit www.gwinnettcountyfair.com.