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80th State Fair opens to cool weather, large crowds

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John Wilbanks laughs along with his 2-year-old great-granddaughter, Kayeson Frazier, as they spin around in the Tea Cup ride on the midway at the New Mexico State Fair on Thursday. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

The 80th New Mexico State Fair opened Thursday to a large crowd enjoying non-stop action and the enticing smell of foods under mostly cloudy skies that kept temperatures cool and pleasant.

“I’m seeing more people today than I’ve seen on opening day in recent years,” said State Fair general manager Dan Mourning. “The biggest thing we worry about is the weather. If that holds out, we’ll be okay. What most people don’t realize is that 80 percent of the fair, not counting the midway, is under some sort of overhead covering.”

Mourning said he was pleased that people were taking advantage of opening day discounts that included $2 admission, $12 unlimited ride bands and $3 “graze days” specials offered by nearly all the fair’s food vendors.

John and Kaye Wilbanks recently moved to Albuquerque from a small town in Arkansas. They were entertaining their 2-year-old great-granddaughter, Kayeson Frazier. Each of the great grandparents took turns sitting with the 2-year-old in the Tea Cup ride.

“She’s having a wonderful time. She was laughing the whole time,” said Kaye Wilbanks, who was impressed with the large size of the New Mexico State Fair. “I’ve been to smaller county fairs in Arkansas,” she said, “but nothing like this.”

Ramona Perea, an assistant principal at the San Diego Riverside Charter School on the Jemez Reservation, had her hands full. She was accompanying 83 kids – kindergarten through eighth grade – on a school outing to the fair.

“If the school didn’t do this, a lot of these kids wouldn’t come to the fair,” Perea said as a group of youngsters sat beside her licking their way through ice cream cones.

“With the price of parking, admission, rides and food, a family could easily spend over $100, and lot of these kids come from big families. For 25 percent of them, it’s their first time visiting the State Fair. … We’re opening a door for them to see what’s outside the reservation.”

Felicity Jackson was inside the petting zoo with her daughters, Nala, 3, and Nova, 2, and about 60 animals, including goats, pigs, sheep, alpaca, llama, ducks, chickens, a donkey and a wallaby.

“We all love the animals and the petting zoo is our first stop, always,” Jackson said as her children picked up brushes and began running the bristles across a baby goat.

Zoo crew member Cheyenne Redden said she especially enjoys watching kids who come in and who are clearly scared. “Then we show them a baby goat and they start petting it, and they’re like, okay, this is good, and suddenly they’re petting all the animals. It’s very cute.”

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