By JORDYN GRZELEWSKI
Visitors to this year’s Canfield Fair will have the chance to see the fairgrounds from a new vantage point: the top of a 120-feet-tall gondola wheel.
The wheel also promises to provide a new view for fairgoers who prefer to keep their feet on the ground, as the towering ride will be brightly lit for all to see.
The Dutch Wheel is just one in a slew of new rides fair officials say are bigger and better than ever. For the first time in decades, the fair has a new ride operator, Reithoffer Shows Inc., based in Florida, who is taking over after Bates Amusement retired from the ride business after working at the Canfield Fair for 35 years.
“They’re so much larger and more spectacular rides than we had in the past, even though our past ride providers, the Bates, did a great job,” said fair board President Dave Dickey. “This is something new, and it’s going to be a special attraction for the fairgoers this year.”
Fair officials say the 52 new rides (an increase from about 45 rides last year) are sure to be a highlight of the 172nd Canfield Fair, which opens Wednesday and runs through Labor Day.
Among the new rides is the Tornado, a brightly painted, high-speed spinning ride; the Himalaya, which takes you on a speedy course while music plays; and a $1 million Italian-made roller coaster.
Since there are more rides, and they’re larger, fair officials said lines should be shorter and fairgoers who buy ride wristbands will get more thrill for their buck.
They also are hoping the new attractions help boost attendance, which in recent years has been between about 280,000 and 310,000 people.
“I think the rides are going to be a huge, huge success this year,” Dickey said. “We’re really excited about our new ride purveyor. I think the public is going to be very, very surprised by the different look of the fair.”
In other additions to this year’s fair offerings, mule racing is returning after a 20-plus-year absence.
The mules, which will race for $300 purses in the elimination heats and $500 in the final, will compete during the harness races Monday.
“There has always been an interest in the sport locally,” said speed Superintendent Elwood Woolman. “We just had not made the commitment. This year the board stepped up and has endorsed the races. We all are very excited about the event.”
Also during the three-day harness meet, Junior Fair will sponsor other races such as saddle horse and pony racing.
Dickey also noted some new science, technology, engineering and mathematics displays.
“In Building No. 44 this year, we’re going to have robotics demonstrations and demonstrations on the stage,” he said. “We also have new STEM projects that will be displayed in Building No. 44 and in Building No. 25.”
“Of course, I can’t say anything about the fair without saying something about the Junior Fair department,” he added, noting that Junior Fair participants will have as many as 3,000 fair entries.
Another integral part of the exposition is the grandstand attractions.
Traditions such as the World’s Largest Demolition Derby and the Canfield Fair Championship Truck and Tractor Pull will return.
On Sunday night, contemporary Christian musician Matthew West will headline the grandstand. Fair officials are excited about the grandstand event that will close out the fair Monday – country star Toby Keith will bring his Should’ve Been a Cowboy XXV tour to the fairgrounds.
“Usually the fair slows down on Monday around 5 or 6 p.m., but with Toby Keith playing until 10:30, it’ll keep the fair open and stretch out the fairgoers’ stay a little better,” Dickey said.
The fair offers free parking on its grounds. Overflow parking is available at Canfield High School on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, with a free shuttle service running from the high school to the fairgrounds.
In terms of upgrades, the fair board installed new LED lighting at the grandstand and made some improvements to the race track. The board continues to raise money for a new Junior Fair/expo facility.
In preparation for the opening this week, the ride operator arrived at the fairgrounds last week to begin assembling the rides, which are inspected by the state before the fair begins.
Concessionaires began arriving late last week. 4-H members will start bringing their animals to the site. In a matter of days, the mostly empty fairgrounds transforms into a bustling community.
“By Tuesday night, we’ll have the street sweepers come in and sweep everything up and be ready for go time,” Dickey said.
The gates open at 8 a.m. Wednesday.