PERRY -- Sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80s greeted the first people through the gates Thursday for the start of the 26th Georgia National Fair.
About 500,000 people are expected to enjoy the family-friendly event, which runs through Oct. 18.
The doors opened at 3 p.m., and members of the McGuire family from Baxley were among the first to arrive.
Dustin and Danielle McGuire said they were looking forward to sharing the sights and sounds with their two children, 9-year-old Chasity and 7-year-old Travis.
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It’s been about a decade since they were here for the fair: Danielle McGuire was pregnant with Chasity during their last visit.
“It’s all about the kids having fun,” Dustin McGuire said.
Katherine Williams, a retired college professor from Sylvester, was at the fair with her family.
“We just wanted to experience it again,” Williams said. Now retired, she was headed Thursday afternoon to the Family Life Center to check out homemaking tips.
Sandy Yang and Steven Yoo, who are engaged and recently moved to Warner Robins, were making their first trip to the midway in Perry.
“The food!” exclaimed Yang when asked about what they were most looking forward to experiencing. “That’s what we’ve been talking about all day.”
She said they were looking forward to comparing Southern treats with what they’ve experienced at other fairs.
Melissa House, 49, of Warner Robins, said she enjoys the performing seals. Her friend Barry Butler of Griffin was looking forward to the free concert.
Meanwhile, Caroline and Jimmy Stewart of Macon were meeting their grandchildren, who traveled to the fair from North Carolina.
“It’s all about the kids,” Jimmy Stewart said. His wife added, “they love the animals and the tractors, and we love the food.”
Josephine Musgrove of Albany and Vicki Tucker of Cordele said the fine arts exhibits drew them to the fair.
Musgrove, a retired teacher, had entered three gourds and a basket to be judged, and Tucker, a retired teacher and school administrator, entered five paintings.
About an hour after the gates opened to the public, a host of dignitaries and community members gathered at Reaves Arena for the official opening ceremony and ribbon cutting. The main speaker, Gov. Nathan Deal, recalled childhood memories of getting livestock ready for expositions, fairs and competitions. He noted that the fair is about giving young people the opportunity to grow and learn.
He said the fair offers a “tremendous” venue for those who are interested in agriculture.
Deal also participated earlier Thursday in a ribbon cutting at the Georgia Grown Building that marked the expansion of the Seasons and Faces of Georgia Agriculture exhibit. The exhibit, which highlights many Georgia farming families, includes photos, interactive activities and a 20-minute film.
“The building is a tremendous facility to demonstrate ... what we have in the agricultural arena,” Deal said.
But the governor’s highest praise was reserved for the fair itself.
“This is just another indication of how great Georgia really is,” Deal said. “Very few states have something comparable to the Georgia National Fair. We should cherish it, we should be proud of it, and we should continue to support it, as you are doing by being here today.”
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.