Douglas County fair is back, bigger and better

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It’s not just a spectator sport, this year’s annual Douglas County Fair: In addition to watching livestock competitions and rodeos, there are free pancakes, pie-eating contests, dances, carnival rides, hands-on ag-education opportunities — and, of course, the cricket races. The fair is Aug. 8-11, but many of the preliminary events are already underway.

The fourth annual cricket races for a couple hundred kids and crickets will take place at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 9, and racers are reminded not to bring their own crickets. It's not because race organizers are worried about seeing super crickets with suspiciously large muscle-bound insect bodies. They want to spare young cricket-handlers from perhaps losing their cricket pet, says Maryjo Woodrick, an event coordinator for the Douglas County Extension Office.

Apparently, there have been times when the cricket handlers get so excited during the race that instead of encouraging the cricket to move faster by patting the ground behind the cricket, they pat the cricket, Woodrick said. And there have been times when the winning cricket handler, so excited about the win, has jumped up and down where they wished they hadn't. So, the extension office provides the crickets, about 300 of them bought from a local pet store. Most crickets make it through OK, and kids can take them home as pets, with special instructions from Joe Julian, Douglas County's extension director, on how to care for them.

The fair, located at Douglas County Fairgrounds, 500 Fairgrounds Drive in Castle Rock, actually started July 27 with a junior division dog show and continues through Aug. 11 with 4-H and open competitions — everything from floriculture to goats to quilts.

The biggest days, with major events, will be the two weekends in the stretch from Aug. 3-11, but especially the last weekend — which starts early. The final weekend starts revving up at 7 p.m. Aug. 8 with championship bull riding.

On Aug. 9, among other things, will the cricket races, a P.R.C.A. rodeo and headline entertainment, country singer Walker Williams, who has been the warmup act for Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and others.

Aug. 10 kicks offs with the 9 a.m. fair parade on Wilcox Street, Castle Rock's main street, and then later on is the tractor pull, the pie-eating contest, another rodeo and a barn dance featuring Honky Tonk Voodoo, a Colorado band described as “country music with an edge.”

On Aug. 11, the fair winds down with an 8 a.m. free pancake breakfast, a draft horse pull and another rodeo at 1 p.m.

In this county where bedroom suburbia is replacing ranchland, some members of the county's leadership still have agricultural roots and interests. Todd Spencer, chairman of the Douglas County Fair Board, is the go-to person for 4-Hers to ask sheep questions. His family has been raising and showing sheep since the 1940s, and he started the DC Lamb Masters 4-H Club. Spencer can take the flat of his hand, run it along a sheep's body, and tell to a fraction of an inch that ratio of fat to muscle, he said. Douglas County Commissioner Roger Partridge is the beef expert — he's been a longtime 4-H leader and superintendent of the beef program.

“The fair offers all the ability to see our past, present and future Western and agricultural heritage all together in one week even though this lifestyle is experienced and enjoyed all year long by many right here in Douglas County,” Partridge said. “It is true Americana.”

Partridge says they're noticing a strong and rising interest in gardening, and in raising chickens — and he's guessing it's because some urban communities now allow chickens.

“We have over 400 chicken entries this year,” he said, about a 22 percent increase. “We've had to rearrange the barn for chickens. It's amazing.”

Spencer is excited about how the county has been successful in drawing people from Highlands Ranch and other areas. Last year's fair attendance was up about 36 percent. It's much more fun than when he was showing at the fair as a kid and about the only people there were people competing. “It's more exciting, more stuff going on,” he said. And the facility is much different.

“We have put over $30 million in capital improvements in the fairgrounds,” Spencer said. And it continues with the still-under-construction Heritage Plaza project, which is an outdoor concert and shaded area. Part of the plaza will have a memorial made of 6,000 bricks that people can buy for $250 a brick and have a family member's name or business name put on it. Proceeds go to the Douglas County Fair Foundation's endowment fund, to be used for unexpected expenses or capital projects for the fair, which usually breaks even, Spencer said.

For more information, go to www.douglascountyfairandrodeo.com.