NORTH SWANZEY — Good ol’ fashioned entertainment delighted kids of all ages at the Cheshire Fair during the weekend.
Under an expansive tent on the midway, children and teens of all ages flitted between pens housing an impressive variety of animals, including goats, alpacas, tortoises and emus.
A man holding a baby leans down to let the child gently pat the head of a young red cow, and his face breaks into a chubby, bright smile.
The Cheshire Fair featured a petting zoo a few years ago, but this year’s return of the attraction by Pine Meadows Children’s Zoo, new to the county, is much larger, according to John Kenney, a board member with the fair.
The 81st edition of the fair — this year a four-day run — concluded Sunday evening. It featured many of its traditional trappings, including the popular final-day demolition derby. The weather was favorable, and turnout appeared strong.
Much of what a county fair offers is children-friendly ... and traditional.
Erick Reynolds said he has relatives in the area, so he drove up from Long Island, N.Y., to camp for 10 days with his children: Johnathan, 12, Erick, 6, and his 3-year-old daughter, Alex.
Reynolds added that he’s been coming to the Cheshire Fair since he was a kid.
Chatting for a brief moment Saturday afternoon before the family moved on, Johnathan said his favorite event so far was the horse pull. He’s a huge fan of video games, he said, but thinks it’s much more fun “to be around nature and animals” at the fair.
A parent at a puppet show Sunday shared the same sentiment.
Little ones gathered in front of the stage to watch Lindsay and Her Puppet Pals, featuring Lindsay Aucella and her larger-than-life characters.
After seeing the show, Jim and Bethany Craig of Bennington said they are avid fair-goers with their three young boys, who they said giggled at the puppetry.
Taking them to county fairs allows the boys to be “exposed to nature and animals and farm life,” Jim Craig said, noting that many children spend too much time staring at computer and cellphone screens these days.
Both parents are involved with the Hillsborough County Agricultural Fair; Bethany is the superintendent.
“Just getting people to volunteer at fairs is difficult,” she said.
By introducing their boys to them now, she said, it might encourage them to get involved, too, when they’re older.
Weaving together history, lessons of fire safety and cake, the Cheshire County Forest Fire Warden’s Association hosted a birthday party for Smokey Bear Saturday afternoon, who turns 75 this year.
Kids and their parents learned about the icon’s origins, including that there’s no “the” in his name — “Smokey the Bear” stemmed from a song in the 1950s and stuck.
After a few tips on how to prevent wildfires, the bear himself made an appearance and ceremoniously cut his birthday cake. While park rangers and fire officials served the guests, Smokey took photos with children, high-fiving babies and hugging kids who dared to get close to the furry bear.
Oscar Olson, 6, attended the party with his 4-year-old brother, Oliver. Their mother, Sara Olson, said she appreciates family entertainment like this instead of sitting in front of the television.
“They can certainly see that things are real and tangible, and they can touch Smokey the Bear,” she said.
The boys, of West Chesterfield, had seen other shows at the fair, too. Oscar specifically pointed out the juggling duo “Off the Wall Juggling and Comedy.”
He bit his lip as he tried to decide whether he preferred watching TV or the jugglers’ stunts. Finally, he chose the latter, smiling.
Steve Corning and Jason Tardy make up “Off the Wall,” which they call a “dangerously weird” show. Along with juggling oversized knives while standing on a yoga ball — and then swapping those for plungers while still juggling — their act includes fire-eating and balancing heavy objects on Corning’s face.
Kids crowded on top of a small wooden playground shaped like a tractor to watch the performers. When Corning began stacking a folding chair and a speaker stand on top of a 6-foot ladder to balance on his chin, one boy told his family, “It’s gonna fall, I just know it.”
Corning picked up the contraption, carefully placed it on his chin and spread his arms out triumphantly, prompting an eruption of applause.
The boy hopped down from the wooden tractor, stunned.
“I’m so impressed! I don’t even wanna see anymore because I’m too impressed,” he said to his family.
On the highest row of a small set of bleachers, a 9-year-old girl in a backward ball cap stood while the rest of the audience sat. She whooped and hollered at every trick, clapping loudly and jittering with excitement.
After the show, Abigail Wright said she loved their performance, particularly Corning’s balancing acts and the final fire-breathing trick by Tardy.
Her dad, Craig Wright, performed at the fair, too, with “CW Trials Bike Stunt Show.” He said he travels for about six weeks of fairs, and Abigail attends one or two during the year.
She often seeks out comedians and jugglers to watch at fairs because she loves the tricks, Abigail said.
“I think it’s really cool that I can see all the things they do in person … instead of sitting inside and watching TV and not making any friends,” she said.