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Opening day: Ferris wheel, funnel cakes back at fairgrounds

Photo by Michael Buckelew

Photo by Michael Buckelew

LAWRENCEVILLE -- A section of bright yellow track hung suspended from cables attached to a crane high above the fairgrounds Wednesday afternoon as workers pieced together the colorful Crazy Mouse roller coaster.

Big rigs carrying dismantled pieces of rides and towing food stands and game booths rolled into the fairgrounds two days prior after leaving Memphis on Sunday night. Those trucks -- along with groups of workers, many shirtless under a hot but slowly waning summer sun -- were scattered across the fairgrounds Wednesday building the traveling carnival, one of the highlights of the annual Gwinnett County Fair.

"To me, it's like seeing a small city being built within a few hours," said fair manager Dale Thurman. "It's exciting to see all the parts go together and beautiful rides come out of it."

Those rides will be up and running and ready for riders when the fair opens at 4 p.m. today. Over the course of the event, 200,000 people are expected to venture through the front gates, not just for the carnival rides and games, but also for the daily livestock shows, exhibits of crafts and field crops, concerts, the annual Gwinnett County pageants and the delectable foods, without which the fair just wouldn't be the same.

Although the hot, bright sunshine that shone on the fairgrounds Wednesday made for sweaty work for crews assembling rides, it was a welcome sight for fair organizers, who last year watched as prolonged heavy rains washed away profits and put a damper on the fair season. With the National Weather Service forecasting sunshine through Wednesday, with an occasional partly cloudy evening, organizers are optimistic that this year will be very different from last.

"The weather man is being very positive," Thurman said. "It looks like great fair weather, a little warm during the day but the nights are cool. Just a great time to come on out and enjoy."

New to this year's fair offerings are a competition for wool makers, who will be demonstrating their craft throughout the course of the fair, and a display of honey bees making honey, courtesy of a local group of beekeepers. Beginning next week, representatives from the Georgia Dairy Association will present a milking demonstration.

"Any time we can come up with something to show people where a product comes from, be it honey or be it milk or here's the wool that clothes are made from, (is an opportunity we'll take)," Thurman said.

"People don't really realize where things come from. Milk comes from (somewhere) other than the store," he laughed.

Fair entertainment organizations have also added two additional nights of concerts to the musical entertainment offerings. Country music singer John Conlee will open the concerts on Monday night in a lineup that includes Jimmy Fortune from the Statler Brothers, David Ball and T. Graham Brown.

For a complete schedule of events during this year's fair, as well as information on ride specials, call the fairgrounds at 770-963-6522 or visit www.gwinnettcountyfair.com.