Star power is alive and well at the East Texas State Fair, but in the most unlikely of places. It's with the pigs.
With the fair entering its second and final weekend, East Texans have three more days to enjoy the food, rides, shows and exhibits that come with this 97-year tradition. The Swifty Swine Racing Pigs are just one of the many options available.
About 243,000 visitors came out last year, and organizers expect to come close, if not meet, that this year.
“Everything is going great,” said John Sykes, president of The Park of East Texas. “We are just a few numbers short of where we were at the same time last year.”
Sykes said attendance is only one measure of a successful event. They also consider how the carnival and food vendors are doing.
Last year, carnival sales set a record and vendor sales also increased, Sykes said.
When it comes to attractions, Sykes said the goal is to bring things that will be fun and family oriented. If they're educational, that's a plus.
One of this year's new attractions is “Bixby's Rainforest Rescue,” a show that combines animals, magic, comedy and audience participation to teach people about conservation and protecting the rainforest and other environments.
When it comes to food, diversity is key, he said.
“You know the East Texas State Fair has a reputation and a history of having local food vendors, and we always want to keep them and keep them a major part,” he said.
That said, they always are looking to bring in new vendors, which they did this year with seafood options and porkchop-on-a-stick.
“Menu diversity is the key thing we look for … and having our vendors, all of them, get a fair shot,” Sykes said.
This event will generate about $2.5 million in gross income, he said. A study released last year showed it has an economic impact of more than $7 million.
“It's the largest event between Dallas and Shreveport and Tulsa and Houston,” Sykes said.
Heather Pickett, director of presentation and development for The Park of East Texas, said many vendors come from out of town, stay in hotels and buy supplies here.
For the livestock show, people come from multiple states, she said. They buy gas here and eat at restaurants, she said.
“It has a lot larger impact on the economy than people really think it does,” she said.
The funds generated support youth education such as the scholarships and/or prize money doled out to students who participate in various competitive events or apply for scholarships.
“Our philanthropy is focused on youth education and promoting agriculture,” Ms. Pickett said.
With a 97-year history, the fair has become a tradition for many East Texas families, and Sykes said it has a way of bringing people together.
“If there was one single event in this entire town that can cut across all boundaries … the fair is the one single event that (involves) everybody …,” he said. “Social, racial, economic — it crosses all boundaries.”