BLACKFOOT — Another year, another opportunity to try a doughnut cheeseburger and ride the tilt-a-whirl.
Thousands of people streamed into Blackfoot on Friday for the opening day of the Eastern Idaho State Fair, which runs through Sept. 9. Organizers started the fair a day early this year in order to ease workers into the weekend.
Many attendees, including Matthew Arrowood, took advantage of the early start as a way to avoid the mass of people on a weekday afternoon.
The Idaho Falls resident went to the fair with his wife and 4-year-old daughter, who enjoys seeing the animals.
“We thought it would be a bit smaller crowd on the first day. It’s a little easier for our daughter to do her thing,” Arrowood said. “We went straight to the animals. Our daughter petted some bunnies and ponies; she’s loving it. Anything she can touch or ride.”
Arrowood, 33, has attended the fair nearly each year of his life. He recently went to the Western Idaho Fair in Boise, and said it pales in comparison.
“This one’s better, by far. It’s a lot bigger; there’s more to see. The food’s better,” he said.
Fried food stands greet visitors shortly past the main entrance — chicken strips, burgers, corn dogs and other savory fare. There’s also plenty for those with a sweet tooth.
“We had the cheesecake brownie on a stick — it was amazing,” said Idaho Falls native Traci Wheeler, who also has attended the fair for several decades.
Wheeler’s daughter, McKenzie, made her try the fried frog legs.
“They were pretty good,” McKenzie said. “It’s been about the food here. Lots of food.”
After eating lunch, the Wheelers perused carnival rides. Traci said it was a mellow experience compared to attending during Labor Day last year.
“It was crazy then; so this is a bit nicer,” she said. “It’s been nice to come when the kids are in school and to be able to go with less of a crowd.”
Morgan resident Barry Edwards also appreciated the slower weekday pace. He spent time in the art exhibits.
The photography section had portraits, wildlife photos and landscapes, including of the total solar eclipse in August.
“I mainly like looking at the way an artist is depicting what he sees. The technique used in developing the scene,” Edwards said.
Outside of the exhibit, it was a beautiful day. Attraction ridership started to ramp up in the early afternoon as families migrated toward the carnival area. Children strapped into neon-colored rides twirled through the air without a cloud in sight.
Tiffany Oren of Bloomington, Ill., brought her children to the fair. She grew up in Challis and attended the Eastern Idaho State Fair regularly as a kid.
“We came for the kiddie rides, and the food,” she said. “Later, we have dessert to look forward to — ice cream.”
The day started relatively quiet, concession owner Rich Chadwick said. He expected attendance to ramp up in the evening and during the weekend.
Chadwick has worked the fair for several decades and said it’s one of the region’s best.
“These guys do an awesome job,” he said. “It’s just all the crew, grounds crew and office people. They’re excited and dedicated and they work hard. They’re organized; they have their stuff together.”