PRESQUE ISLE — Bigger and better than ever, 2012’s Northern Maine Fair gets under way July 27. The fair has always been and still is the single event in northern Maine where more people from more diverse locations, occupations and backgrounds come together. The broad range of sponsors and community participants are testament to the fair’s importance in the life of Aroostook County.
This year’s nine-day fair will be a combination of old favorites and new activities, with century-old traditions of horse racing and livestock, and more recently installed events such as truck and tractor pulling, music and forestry. Emphasis in recent years has been in building educational programs and activities, especially for children.
“We have been working especially hard to develop activities between the Forum and the livestock areas of the fairgrounds,” said Fair President Kevin McCartney.
Always a big hit at the fair are the carnival rides. Smokey’s Greater Shows returns this year with more rides than last year and three that are new to northern Maine. The cost of bracelets this year has been reduced to $15 and there are four bracelet nights: Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and the last Saturday of the fair.
“We have worked hard to improve our selection of rides and prices,” said Andy LeBlanc, chair of the Midway Committee of the Northern Maine Fair Association.
Harness racing is one of the long-standing traditional events at the fair. Daytime racing is on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday, while nighttime racing is on Monday, Thursday and the second Friday of the fair.
“I’ve talked with a lot of horsemen who are very excited to come back,” said Chair Laura Hunter.
The Forum will host two large historical displays during the week. Rods and Relics will be during the first weekend, with a large collection of vintage cars and trucks to pedal toys, including a 1925 Buick. “Shifty,” the show mascot, will be handing out free prizes and vintage tunes will be played by DJ Bobby Collins. Tuesday to Thursday will be the 15th Historical Pavilion and Living History Demonstration, with displays from historical organizations, history-minded businesses and private collections.
‘Lil Farmers was a major new addition to the fair last year, with more than 1,500 children and 5,000 visitors altogether. The construction of five mini barns in 2011 for interactive agricultural demonstrations has been enhanced this year with the addition of a grain silo, which will be the first display that children will be engaged in as they go around the exhibits. Other fun additions are also planned. “Expect to be surprised,” said chair Jessica Blackstone.
Besides ‘Lil Farmers, children’s events are to be found throughout the fairgrounds. The highly popular Princess and Pirate Parties in the Ladies’ Pavilion will return once again, and the Miss Northern Maine Fair Pageant is now in its third year. Blacksmithing demonstrations in front of the Ag-Heritage Building have also been popular with children and there will be a new blacksmith shop this year with demonstrations nearly every day. The Lumbermen’s Roundup on the last Saturday of the fair will for the second year feature a Paul Bunyan look-a-like contest that includes a special category for children.
Fair officials are also proud of the continuing improvements that are being made to the Agricultural Exhibition Building. This year the kitchen has been equipped with wireless microphones and speakers and several local chefs have been invited to come demonstrate their cooking skills. There are more cooking contests, including a new cupcake and cake decorating contest. Now in its second year, the Pie-A-Palooza contests feature raspberry, strawberry/strawberry rhubarb, apple and blueberry pie and the open category, “Pie in the Sky.” Bakers entering all five pie contests will also be competing for the overall Pie-A-Palooza award and bragging rights about being the finest baker in The County. Following the cupcake decorating contest this year, there will be a special Children’s Art Workshop, sponsored by the Wintergreen Arts Center.
Fair directors have been working hard to improve the livestock areas as well. The Ag-Olympics and Steve Akeley’s working horses will be returning for a second year. 2012’s fair will feature displays of chickens, with live chicks being hatched in Old MacDonald’s Farm. The ever popular rabbit hutch will also be open for fair-goers of all ages to ooh and aah over the beautiful bunnies. The 4-H Baby Beef Show and Auction will, as usual, be on the Wednesday in the livestock show ring. 4-H is adding a new small registration building to the fairgrounds.
The 2012 Music Festival at the Northern Maine Fair will certainly have a “little something for everyone” this year, said co-chair Dora Leavitt. While emphasizing the terrific local talent in Northern Maine, the festival will also feature the folk duo Squid Jiggers on Monday, July 30, comprised of inveterate musician-entertainers from the southern part of the state. The musical theme this year is “diversity.” All shows run from 7-9 p.m., nightly, in the Music Hall. The best of the Northern Star performers will be in front of the grandstands on Tuesday, July 31, between the pig scramble and the fireworks. The Freestyle MX motorcycle show will be on Wednesday, Aug. 1.
An important part of the fair program over the past six years has been the exotic animal demonstrations in “AndyLand,” located in the green space behind the Music Hall/Ladies Pavilion. This year’s program will be the “One World Exotic Animal Show” which features animals found in the rain forests, such as parrots, snakes, turtles and other interesting creatures not commonly seen in northern Maine. These include many unusual exotic mammals.
The truck- and tractor-pulling event is now in its 39th year. This year there will be three shows during the first weekend: at 6 p.m. on Friday and at noon and 6 p.m. on Saturday.
“We expect to see new people competing this year along with the guys and gals from all over the state of Maine, as well as the Maritimes, who participate in this event yearly. Many improvements have been made to the pulling sled over the last year and the addition of new LED speed and distance signs have really added to the show,” said Russell Bugbee, superintendent of truck/tractor pulling.
The Demolition Derby program will includes a new event this year: tuff trucks. This event is open to anyone with a pick-up truck who thinks they can beat the clock over an obstacle course in the infield in front of the grandstand. The various obstacles are designed to test vehicle and driver, said Steve Smith, chair of demolition derby. Competitors will compete one at a time against the clock. Car drivers will also be able to try their skills.
Much work goes into preparing for the fair, not only in scheduling events and contests, but also in making sure the grounds are safe and clean.
“Keeping the buildings in good condition and appearance is a continuous process,” said Roger Hoffses, the director in charge of the buildings and grounds. “A lot of repair work has been done on the fencing, and the painting of walls and bleachers. Much of the wood in the front steps, walkways and seating in the Grandstand has been replaced and painted. More work on the grounds is planned by the National Guard after the fair.”
There are other changes as well. To reduce the waste of paper, the Fair Premium Book is now online at www.northernmainefair.com. The printed premium book will be missed, but the online presentation has advantages of lower cost, convenience and being more eco-friendly.
“As the fair continues forward by embracing and celebrating the County’s agricultural past, so too it looks forward to continuing on into the next century,” said McCartney. There’s something for everyone — it’s a family affair. The Northern Maine Fair welcomes you and yours!”