Collier County fair gets some power acts, but keeps its animal shows and favorite foods

Participants in the Pee Wee Show livestock competition guide their 3- to 4-month-old piglets around the arena at the Collier County Fair on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2010. The Pee Wee Show teaches children under the age of eight the guidelines of participating in livestock shows. David Albers/Staff

Photo by DAVID ALBERS // Buy this photo

Participants in the Pee Wee Show livestock competition guide their 3- to 4-month-old piglets around the arena at the Collier County Fair on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2010. The Pee Wee Show teaches children under the age of eight the guidelines of participating in livestock shows. David Albers/Staff

If you go

2012 Collier County Fair

When: March 15-25

Where: Collier County fairgrounds, 10 miles east of I-75 off exit 111 (Immokalee Road).

Cost: $10 adults, $5 for children 5 to 12, unless otherwise noted. Children younger than 5 free. Active duty and retired U.S. Military free with ID.

Tickets/Complete schedule: www.colliercountyfair.com

Hours: ■ Thursday, March 15: Audrey Johnson Founder’s Night. 6 to 11 p.m. Free admission with 2 cans of food or dog/cat food per person from 6 to 7 p.m. Ride armbands $15

■ Friday, March 16: March Madness Night. 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Half-price admission with college ID. Ride armbands $20

■ Saturday, March 17: 1 p.m. to 1 a.m.

■ Sunday, March 18: 4-H Day. 1 to 11 p.m. Free admission with valid 4-H card. Ride armbands $20

■ Monday, March 19: Cyber Monday for Cancer Research. 6 to 11 p.m. Ride armbands $15

■ Tuesday, March 20: Ten Buck Tuesday. 6 to 11 p.m. Adults and Children $5; Ride armbands $10

■ Wednesday, March 21: Family Fun Night. 6 to 11 p.m. Ride armbands $15, kiddie ride armbands $5

■ Thursday, March 22: 6 to 11 p.m.

■ Friday, March 23: Midnight Madness. 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Ride armbands $20

■ Saturday, March 24: 1 p.m. to 1 a.m.

■ Sunday, March 25: Family Block Party. 1 to 10 p.m. Ride armbands $15 (includes admission) and $5 admission for children and adults

Something else: MegaPasses, which cover admission and rides for one day, are available online for $20 through Wednesday March 14

There’s a quintessential American childhood memory — filed away in some form in the back of our minds — which many of us share. Pushed between images of your childhood lemonade stand and scenes of Christmas mornings past, is a memory so wholesome, so full of joy, that just one whiff of deep-fried dough can bring you back.

The sights, the sounds, the smells; There are few things in life more intoxicating than a day at the county fair.

The Collier County fair is back next week, bigger and better, yet exactly like what you remember from your youth.

"It's really the ultimate family event," says Chance Singletary, marketing director for the Collier County Fair, adding, "for as little as $5, your family can have hours of fun and an experience that will last a lifetime."

For Phillip Hendricks, who runs the Banana Derby, Collier County's commitment to keeping a family-friendly atmosphere makes this fair a standout. Hendricks travels the country visiting dozens of fairs each year with his wife, daughter and troupe of performing dogs and monkeys. His show, which involves monkeys riding dogs around an arena, was a smash hit at last year's fair. Collier County, he says, is one of his favorite places to play.

"Naples is the first spot we're coming to this year, and I really look forward to coming back to Naples because it's a very fun, family-oriented venue. The Collier County fair has a good family flair to it."

Which is perhaps due to the fact that for almost two decades a family has run the fair.

"I've been involved for 17 years now," says marketing director Singletary, who got drafted into working on the event as a kid when his aunt, Ann Ward, became the secretary of the fair manager. Ward would later become the fair manager, a title that would be passed on to Singletary's mother a few years later and is currently held by Singletary's cousin.

"As a family, we've got the fair in our hearts and in our blood," says Singletary.

Although he's been involved with the event for years, Singletary is more excited about this fair than any they've had in recent memory.

"For the past few years the event has always fallen at the same time as the state fair, so it's limited the acts we could bring. Because we pushed our date back a bit this year, we're going to have some of the biggest shows we've had in a decade."

Among them:

■ The All American High Dive Team. According to Singletary, Collier County has always been shut out, because the group has opted to perform at the state fair. But finally, they're coming to Collier, daily through March 25.

■ Welde's Grizzly Bears. The act, which includes three bears and the family of humans that travels with them, will be in Collier County for the first time next week. The giant critters dunk basketballs, kiss their trainers, pose for photos and are generally adorable. And Singleton expects them to be one of the biggest daily draws of the whole 10-day extravaganza.

■ "The Stinger," a brand-new ride, only having stopped at two other carnivals on its way here. The giant yellow ride flip-flops, spins and squirms like a politician in the hot seat (and is, quite possibly, just as nausea-inducing).

For the motion sick among us, perennial favorites like the pig races and the Show Me Safari will be back. And according to Singletary, the 4-H livestock exhibition is already lining up to be one of the largest shows in a while.

"We've already got over 100 entries in our small-animal division, which is more than we usually have," says Singletary. "Our livestock auction is big for the kids, and it's big for their college funds."

He does remember a few times when the livestock auction didn't go exactly as planned, however.

"A couple of years ago, we had an 8-year-old girl who fell in love with the pig she raised. Normally, when you buy an animal at the auction you don't buy it and walk out with the pig at the end of the night. You buy it and then 30 days later you come back and pick it up all divided into pork chops.

"But in this case, a family friend bought the pig for the girl and it's since become a family pet."

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