New carnival rides, barbecue masterpieces and mid-70s sunshine will greet fairgoers through the weekend, and event organizers say they are projecting larger crowds than in recent years for the four-day festival.
Fairground gates open at 11 a.m. today for the Cowlitz County Fair, which kicks off with the Kids' Day Parade. The fair runs through Sunday, and admission is free.
Fair Director Mike Moss said Wednesday that more people are buying concert tickets and amusement ride wristbands in advance than in years past.
"Wristband sales are amazing, and ticket sales for Jo Dee Messina are flying out the door," said Moss, who noted that tickets for Messina's country music concert tonight (see story on Page B1) are selling at a faster pace than last year's show with headliner Jake Owen.
Last year, about 54,000 people came through the gates. In 2009, scorching heat dropped fair attendance to 45,000. About 60,000 people attended in 2008.
The National Weather Service forecasts mostly sunny days with high temperatures hovering around 75 degrees for all four days.
That should give fairgoers ample opportunity to enjoy classic attractions as well as some new additions.
New this year is a barbecue competition that takes place Saturday. Fair organizers obtained a health department permit this week that will allow fairgoers to taste samples from five of the contest entries - the most allowed with one permit, Moss said. The Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association, which puts on the competition, will choose which foods can be sampled.
The fair also will feature a new carnival and amusement company this year, Davis Cascadia Amusement. For the first time, fairgoers will be able to buy unlimited-ride wristbands valid any day of the fair. The wristbands cost $27 apiece.
And don't forget a couple of fair classics.
The Thunder Mountain Pro Rodeo takes place at 7 p.m. Friday and 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday. Cars start crunching each other at 2 p.m. Sunday for the demolition derby. Both events are held at the Cowlitz County Event Center.
Moss said for many, the best part about the fair is the free admission.
"Even if you don't want to spend a dollar, you can still get the sights and sounds of fair time for free," he said.