Between scorching heat and sporadic rain, York State Fair soldiers on

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

The York State Fair started off scorching, with attendees braving a triple-digit heat index on opening day.

By Tuesday, temperatures dipped — but the forecast threatened sporadic rain for the remaining days of the event.

"Our numbers weren't as high," said Montgomery Stambaugh, a fair spokesperson. "We have had a little bit of heat and a little bit of rain — but it looks to be cooling off. We're excited for the next coming days where people can come out during the day."

Actual numbers aren't yet available, but the reduced attendance hasn't gone unnoticed by fair vendors, including longtime food vendor Firehouse Style Chopped Steaks.

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The long-running operation by volunteer firefighters has been a staple at the York State Fair for 49 years, according to York City Department of Fire/Rescue Services Capt. Ken Swartz.

"It's a slow start, but it's summer vacation," he said. "So let's see — we have another five days."

Crowds and workers handle with rain early Monday afternoon. Meredith Willse photos

Like most public events, the fair has had a run of bad luck in recent years. First, the 2020 fair was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And the event drew criticism when it changed its usual timing from September to July for its return in 2021.

Despite the change, organizers said the 2021 event drew a total attendance of 532,000 last year. That was roughly on par with 2019 figures of 530,000. Attendance totals for this year will not be revealed until after the fair ends.

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This year, one of the fair's headlining performers — country star Toby Keith — pulled out of the event with just over a month to go after he received a cancer diagnosis.

On Tuesday, overcast clouds sent fairgoers into some of the fairgrounds' indoor buildings to see animals and agricultural education exhibits.

That included the Thomas family, who attended Tuesday to support their children's 4-H projects.

Ensley Thomas, 6, shows off her 4-H Cloverbud project. This year, Ensley built a fairy garden. Tina Locurto photo.

A large table with projects took up a decent portion of space in All Trans Memorial Hall. For mother Amanda Thomas, agriculture education is a big part of her family's identity, and she enjoys seeing representation for agriculture.

"4-H has been our life since we were kids," Thomas said, with her mother Denise Robinson next to her. "So this is wonderful that they have expanded this much."

Typically, Thomas and her children participate in their own 4-H fair in July. Because of the York State Fair's date change from September to July, however, the family was forced to adapt.

Thomas and Robinson agree they miss the fair being held in September — a prime opportunity for local farmers to show off the autumn harvest.

"You're missing out on a lot of the agricultural parts of the fair," Thomas said.

The opening weekend of "America's first fair" started off on the slow side due to temperatures nearing 100 degrees — though fair organizers are hopeful crowds will pick up soon as temperatures cool off throughout the remainder of the week.

Tuesday marked the first day of the York State Fair when temperatures dipped below 90 degrees. And with the fair's promo day featuring free admission to senior citizens with a Medicare card who arrive before 4 p.m., crowds of older folks began to show up in the early afternoon.

Crowds and workers handle with rain early Monday afternoon. Meredith Willse photos

"We have had a couple of situations, mostly just dehydration and people not consuming enough fluids," Stambaugh said. "We do encourage everybody to drink as much water as you can. Alcohol is not a good substitution for fluids."

In addition to a fully-stocked EMS service at the fair with an ambulance, the York State Fair is supplied with cooling tents and shaded seating areas for fairgoers to beat the heat.

— Reach Tina Locurto at or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.