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Beyond the food, what’s new at this year’s fair? Look skyward for the big stars.

You can’t miss the big star of this year’s N.C. State Fair. It weighs 400,000 pounds and stands 155 feet tall.

Meet the new SkyGazer Ferris wheel, the largest traveling wheel in the U.S. When you’re at the tippy-top, you should be able to see up to 15 miles in any direction.

The gigantic wheel is adorned with 524,000 LED lights and is your sixth Ferris wheel option at the fair. It’ll cost you $7 for the 10-minute ride ($6 if you buy a ticket in advance). The SkyGazer is located in front of Dorton Arena between Gates 1 and 2 along Hillsborough Street.

But the SkyGazer isn’t the only new attraction at this year’s fair.

There are several new rides from Powers Great American Midway, including The Frenzy, The Alien Abduction and The Dream Wheel.

Walking around the fairgrounds you’re likely to run into new entertainers, such as the Parrot-Riding Pirate, the Street Drum Corps, the Giraffe and her Zookeeper, and Bandolini, a musical one-man-band show.

One new attraction for 2019 is actually one of the fair’s oldest: fireworks.

Fireworks will return to the actual fairgrounds this year after moving to a location across the street in 2011. The fireworks will be back at the pond at Gate 8, set off from barges in the middle of the pond at 9:45 each night.

New food at the fair

There are lots of delicious new foods to try at this year’s fair, from The Chickenator (Chef’s D’Lites) and the JoCo HoHo (Fat Boys BBQ) to the healthy treat Pineapple Dole Whip (Tropical Delights).

Safety at the fair

N.C. Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry spoke at a media event on Monday, stressing the inspections and safety of the rides.

At the same event, Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker said that his deputies would be out in force at the fair, this year using a “zone defense” to protect fairgoers. Instead of having officers in pairs, Baker said the officers would be in groups stationed at certain areas at the fair, hopefully making it easier for fairgoers to find them if they need help.

The officers will also step up spot-checks on fairgrounds restrooms.

Earlier this month, a group called North Carolinians for Rational Sexual Offense Laws called on Baker to lift the ban on registered sex offenders at the fair. Baker said on Monday that would not be happening.

“I don’t know why that even came up,” he said. “That’s the craziest thing I ever heard in my life.”

Go to the NC State Fair

The NC State Fair — at 1025 Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh — runs Oct. 17-27, with gates opening at noon on Oct. 17. All other days gates will open at 8 a.m., but exhibit halls generally open at 9 a.m. and rides at 10 a.m. The fair closes at 11 p.m. every night except for Fridays and Saturdays, when it’s open until midnight.

Tickets in advance cost $10 for adults 13-64 and $5 for ages 6-12. Kids 5 and under get in free, as do adults 65 or over. Those advance tickets can be purchased until 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 17. After that, admission is $13 for adults 13-64 and $7 for ages 6-12. Members of the military can purchase a ticket for $8 at the gate.

On Friday, Oct. 18, students with a valid school ID or recent report card can get in for $8.

And Thursday, Oct. 24 is Food Lion Hunger Relief Day. Bring six cans of food for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina and admission is free.

To avoid the parking hassle (and fees!) try the free shuttle from the corner of Edwards Mill Road and Reedy Creek Road. There is also free parking and a shuttle service from Carter-Finley Stadium. GoRaleigh also offers rides to the fair, with a round trip ticket costing $5.

Get more details about everything fair related at ncstatefair.org.

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Brooke Cain is a North Carolina native who has worked at The News & Observer for more than 20 years. She writes about TV and local media for the Happiness is a Warm TV blog, and answers CuriousNC questions for readers.
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