It’s that time of year again! It’s just not summer in the country without a county fair, and the beloved annual Ulster County Fair kicks off on Tuesday, July 31 at – where else? – the County Fairgrounds southwest of New Paltz. It runs through Sunday, August 5.
The fact that this year the Fair is celebrating its 125th anniversary prompts us to consider that there have indeed been a few other where-elses during its long run. The first Ulster County Fair was held in September 1886 at a horseracing venue called the Ellenville Driving Park, located on what is now the site of the Ellenville Central Schools complex. In 1902 passenger trains began running between Ellenville and Kingston, and soon after between Ellenville and Port Jervis. With such convenient access, Ellenville continued to host a thriving Fair for many a year; but a fire in 1926 destroyed many of the Driving Park’s structures. Then, in 1931, a combination of torrential rains during Fair week and a polio epidemic suppressed turnout and revenue to such a point that the Fair’s operator, the Southern Ulster Agricultural Society, decided to bail out and sell the site to the School District.
The County Fair then relocated to Kingston, where a downsized version was held at Forsyth Park or the State Armory over the next few decades. A move to the grounds of the recently closed Old County Home and Farm in New Paltz in 1967 allowed the event to expand in both size and length once again, and the Fair has been held there annually ever since. Though it no longer features such popular attractions of its early days as horseraces, automobile races and hot-air balloon ascents, more recent traditions like pig races, exotic animal exhibits and chainsaw-carving competitions have become reliable draws. And old-fashioned activities like tractor pulls, putting horses through their paces and 4-H kids competing for blue ribbons with their livestock, jams or pies remain perennial favorites.
Then there are the thrill rides, of course. The Ulster County Fair hit on a winning formula a long while ago with its policy of allowing unlimited access to the midway (games of chance not included) as well as all exhibits and performances for a single price of entry. Admission remains $15 for anyone age 5 and up – except that opening night, August 31, is Carload Night at $40 per carload, and seniors arriving before 4 p.m. get in free on Thursday, August 2. Parking is free at all times.
There’s lots of entertainment all day long at the Fair besides agricultural competitions and exhibitions. A juggler and a stiltwalker will be wandering the grounds, and there will be fireworks at dusk both Wednesday and Friday. Whenever you need sustenance, traditional Fair fare is available for sale, including the 4-H Club’s legendary thick, old-fashioned milkshakes made to order. But for country music fans especially, the big draws are the live music acts booked for the evenings.
Opening night, Tuesday, July 31 at 7 p.m., one of this region’s most popular bar bands takes the stage: Hot Rod, playing favorite oldies. Country acts rule most of the rest of the week, with Lee Brice coming in on Wednesday, August 1; T. G. Sheppard and Janie Fricke offer two shows on Friday, August 3; two shows as well from Amber Leigh on Saturday, August 4; and John Michael Montgomery wrapping things up on Sunday, August 5.
The wild card in the lineup arrives on Thursday, August 2 with the Village People, best-known for their mega-hits “YMCA” and “Macho Man.” This is bound to be a hot ticket.
The Ulster County Fairgrounds are located at 249 Libertyville Road in New Paltz, on the west bank of the Wallkill. Its gates, buildings and midway open at 10 a.m. each day except for Tuesday, when the gates open at 4 p.m. Closing time is 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 12 midnight on Friday and Saturday and 8 p.m. on Sunday.
Celebrating its 125th anniversary, the Ulster County Fair offers classic rides, carnival games, live entertainment, agricultural competitions and exhibits from July 31 to August 5 at the Ulster County Fairgrounds on Libertyville Road in New Paltz. The grounds are open from 4 to 10 p.m. on Tuesday, July 31; from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, August 1 and 2; from 10 a.m. to 12 midnight on Friday and Saturday, August 3 and 4; and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday, August 5. Rides begin operating at 11 a.m. Admission Tuesday evening is $40 per carload; at all other times, admission is $15 for all aged 5 and up, except that seniors get in free on Thursday up until 4 p.m. Admission includes access to all exhibitions and entertainment and unlimited rides. Parking is free. For additional information, including the full schedule of entertainment and competitions, visit www.ulstercountyfair.com.