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It’s business (almost) as usual at the 2021 Colorado state fair in Pueblo

The Colorado State Fair is now in full swing featuring all kinds of livestock, entertainment, whirling carnival rides and of course, plenty of deep-fried food.

COLORADO, USA — The Colorado State Fair is now in full swing featuring all kinds of livestock, entertainment, whirling carnival rides and, of course, plenty of deep-fried food.

>> Video above: Colorado State Fair opens: What's your favorite fair food?

So far, more than 200,000 people have already come to the 2021 fair, a far cry from last year, when the pandemic shut most of it down.

There are those who come to the state fair to show off their well-trained horses and prize farm animals, like Ashlyn Rockey of Center, who blow-dried her steer after giving him a bath.

“It's really important to show our way of lifestyle and show why it's really important to us,” she said.”I think it's really cool to let the little kids touch the fluffy cows. I really enjoy that.”

Others come to see the critters, like first-time fairgoer Ashley Kurek who came down from Denver. 

“We are checking out all the animals and seeing everything, and getting some corn dogs,” she said while admiring the birds in the poultry barn. “I’ve always wanted to come, we finally came. I’m glad. I don’t want to leave.”

There’s also entertainment like duck races, high diving and concerts, as well as competitions of all kinds from cooking to marching bands.

The CSU Pueblo Thunderwolves Marching Band were crowd-pleasers on Saturday both during the Colorado State Fair Parade and at the fairgrounds.

For the more mechanically inclined, the Front Range Antique Power Association set up an exhibit of old tractors and farm machinery.

Stan Gacnik of Pueblo restored one of the engines on display.

“This engine was sitting on a wooden wagon and that had completely rotted away. It was half-buried in dirt and trees had grown through it,” he said. “Ironically all the pieces were there. When we first got it put together we pulled the flywheels and it started running. It started talking to us after laying dead for a lot of years.”

The carnival is back this year too. Jose Guevara came down from Greeley with his high school marching band. He and his buddies lined up to get spun and swung on a ride that he’d never tried before. 

“(I’m) a little nervous but I think I can handle it," he said. "I'm usually a casual rider, but when it’s somewhat extreme like that I’m somewhat up for the challenge.”

Whatever draws folks to the fair, it adds up to a lot of people, 400,000 to 500,000 in a typical year. This year despite the pandemic, attendance is not far off from previous years, down about 11 percent from 2019 as of mid-week.

But some 49,000 people were at the fair last Saturday alone. That makes Colorado State Fair General Manager Scott Stoller happy.

“Who thought we'd be here, especially a year ago?” he said. “People have been really coming out and excited to see the fair. It's been a very, very busy first five days.”

Stoller said the initial reports showed “really good numbers. Attendance has been up. Food revenue has been up. Carnival ride grosses, which is revenue, are also up quite a bit.”

Fair officials also report that the annual livestock auction raised more than $578,000 through the sale of 143 animals raised and shown by Colorado youth. The money goes to the kids, who often use it toward college or other educational programs.

One of the new events this year was the Governor’s Plate award during the Colorado-sourced food truck competition. Papa Mario’s Grilled Cheese Food Truck of Pueblo won the inaugural award with their signature Panfili grilled cheese sandwich — the Pueblo version of a Philly cheesesteak that uses Musso Farms chiles, Springside Cheese and roast beef.

There are some challenges, Stoller said. “There are a few less vendor booths because they can't get labor and they're having a hard time getting product,” he said. “But the vendors that are here are doing a really good job. And we're (the fair) having a hard time with labor too.”

Stoller said they recognize that COVID-19 is still a concern, so they’ve cut down on indoor events and increased the number of outdoor attractions.

“We're not gauging our success based on attendance this year,” he said.“We're doing it based on the experience and, you know, giving our guests the most comfortable experiences, safety-wise around COVID. So we want people to make the right choice for themselves.”

This year masks are available at the information booth, and this weekend there'll be a COVID vaccination trailer set up just outside the west entrance for people who want to get their shots and a $100 gift card. Stoller also points out that the fairgrounds are 100 acres in size. 

He expects this weekend will be busy with at least one sold-out concert, but adds Labor Day, the last day of the fair, is usually the slowest of the 11-day event. So he said that’s a great time to avoid the crowds and still have a funfair experience.

> This story is powered by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative. 9NEWS joined this historic collaboration with more than 40 other newsrooms across Colorado to better serve the public.

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