The 88 acres of rolling, wooded land just south of Crown Point Square will become the destination point of thousands of Region folks starting tonight with the early bird "Preview Night" for the Lake County Fair.

Gates open at 6 p.m. and prices are discounted to just $2 per person and $2 for parking, with $15 for unlimited ride wristbands.

The Lake County Fair mascot Bea - The Honey Bee will once again be greeting visitors and helping create a “buzz” about all the fun and excitement over the next 10 days. The fair features carnival rides, games of skill, animal exhibits, dozens of food vendors, horse riding events, grandstand motorsports and free nightly concerts.

It has been 165 years since the blue ribbon was presented on the Crown Point grounds. Dozens of awards -- ribbons and trophies -- will be given out this year for homemade preserves and pies, top livestock critters, kids' 4-H art projects, food eating contest winners, biggest pumpkins, coolest cars and a variety of other things. Old-fashioned fair traditions like "goat milking" "frog jumping," pie eating," and "bean spitting" contests return.

Kids' events and projects include things like the twice daily Kids Buck Game Show, the Silly Safaris Live Animal Show, Hot Wheels Racing, "The Zucchini Zoo and Bloomin' Kids' projects.

There's even a whole segment of special children's entertainment on the Aug. 6 "Family Day" in the Lakeshore Public Media Showcase Tent, starting at 12:45 p.m. with The Magic of Jerry Herzog, followed by a special "Kids' Koncert" of popular animated film songs by Radio Memories that includes guest performances by princesses and other film characters and wraps up with a "meet and greet" and photo opportunities with the characters.

Family Day also includes family-friendly performances by The Good Time Cloggers (11:30 a.m.) and The Lyrical Strings Community Group (4:30 p.m.), which features 30 young local performers.

Special exhibits on various topics and various demonstrations by crafters ranging from basket making to wood carving to cooking, will be found in  buildings on the grounds each day.

"Our attendance is generally just over 200,000 each year," said Arlene Marcinek, who became the first female Lake County Fair board member in 1988 and its secretary in 2000. "Rain can affect that final number, but our fair is always very well attended."

Parking fears during peak hours have been calmed since fair guests can now park free at Crown Point High School and catch free shuttles. "Because we have very limited parking on the fairgrounds, the free daily shuttle bus service, which starts at noon daily, is a great option to avoid the long lines at the gates and the traffic hassle," said Marcinek. "Park for free just south of the fairgrounds at Crown Point High School and shuttle buses run constantly from the school parking lot to the west gate, which drops you off right on the midway. You only pay gate admission and save parking costs."

The Aug. 10 Public Transportation Day finds various area transit agencies running special service to and from the fairgrounds all across Lake County. Details and transit schedules are posted on the fair's web site: lake-county-fair.com.

Marcinek encourages those who enjoy carnival rides to take advantage of the fair’s “Mega-Ride Pass” which gives pass-holders unlimited rides day or night for the duration of the fair. “It's really a great deal because for $65 you can literally ride every ride, every hour of every day of the fair." There are daily wristbands available ($12 from noon to 5 p.m. $20 from 5 p.m. to Closing, or $25 noon to Closing).

"We still have the ‘free before three’ admission and parking from Monday through Thursday, so everyone can afford to attend and enjoy our fair," said Marcinek. There is also Senior Day (free admission for those 62 and older on Aug. 7), and Ppsi Family Value Day on Aug.t 8 allows folks to redeem 150 Pepsi or Crush soda cans between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. for a free day time (noon to 5 p.m. wrist band."

"The free horse shows in the arena are a big draw every year," added Marcinek. "The horse events are included in the gate admission. We have people from Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois participate and attend the various horse events."

Live nightly music in the Lakeshore Public Media Showcase Tent also draws fairgoers. Merrillville-based Lake County Public Radio will also broadcast live from the tent every weeknight at 6 p.m. and also both Fridays from noon to 2 p.m. with fairgoers invited to stop and be part of the live show.

The showcase tent offers a variety of live music at 6:30 p.m. each night. On Augt 4 it is John Mellencamp tribute group Mellencougar; Aug. 5 features "Ladies Rock Night" hosted by Dreamz and featuring four top female-fronted bands; Aug. 6's "Van Buskirk & Krischke Classic Car Show" is followed by The Kritters (6:30 p.m.) and Meet The Beetles (8 p.m.).

For the full Lake County Fair schedule of events, performances, exhibits, demonstrations and contests, log on at lake-county-fair.com.

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