State Fair

Dinosaurs roam at State Fair ... sort of

Dinosaurs like no one has ever seen, cool river otters clowning around an air-conditioned indoor pool, a 90-foot drop of terror; those are just some of the new attractions patrons can expect to see at the 2017 California State Fair.

“People think it’s the same old thing year after year, but tons are new,” said Margaret Mohr, Cal Expo’s deputy general manager. “We have a lot of great things that are brand new at this year’s fair.”

When the fair opens its 17-day run Friday, patrons will immediately notice some differences.

“We added more shade and more entertainment,” said Rick Pickering, the fair’s chief executive officer. “That’s what people want.”

During a media preview Thursday, Pickering and his staff showed off some of those changes, ranging from the midway’s Super Shot Drop Tower (don’t eat before riding) to the expanded Wine Garden (which also doubled its wine slushie capacity).

New shade structures and misters cover most of the Midway food court area, keeping patrons cooler while they chow down on a wider assortment of munchies. (That includes deep-fried nachos and bacon-wrapped chocolate-dipped cheesecake.)

“We also have more very healthy foods” such as stir fries or fresh fruit squeezes, Pickering said. “Of course, we found a way to wrap bacon around healthy corn and Brussels sprouts, but it’s only once a year.”

Security is also beefed up with more than 200 new surveillance cameras and 14 license plate readers, he added. “We’re keeping an eye on everything. For the next 17 days, this is the safest place to be in Sacramento.”

Debuting at this fair will be “Expedition: Dinosaurs,” a spectacular animatronic exhibit that fills two halls. Created by Stage Nine Exhibitions of West Sacramento, the 16 dinosaurs make Cal Expo their first stop of a North American tour.

“Why dinosaurs at the State Fair?” Pickering said. “Do you drive a car that burns fossil fuels? Dinosaurs are very much part of the California story.”

These particular dinos are rarities, newly discovered species that had not been featured in other exhibits, explained Troy Carlson of Stage Nine. Two examples – big enough to fill the trailer of an 18-wheeler – are the largest ever shown in Northern California.

“What we really wanted to tell with this exhibit is the incredible story of early paleontologists,” Carlson said. “A lot of museum exhibits show dinosaurs or bones. But we found the story of the dinosaur hunters captivating and not told.”

Those dinosaur hunters include the real-life scientists that inspired the movie character Indiana Jones, he noted.

“We’re still discovering new dinosaurs all the time,” Carlson added. “There are still dinosaur hunters today.”

Next door, live animals demonstrate the importance of preserving endangered species and making sure they don’t go the way of the dinosaurs.

Sponsored by the California Coastal Commission, the new “Whale Tail” exhibit features river otters Drip and Drop in their air-conditioned playpen. Also impressing fairgoers will be bald eagles Seneca and Spirit, a rescued raccoon, a pelican, lobsters, crabs and other animals that call California home.

At past State Fairs, this popular exhibit had been in a much smaller and warmer space next to the Wine Garden.

“This is much better,” said David Jackson, director of Conservation Ambassadors, guardians of the rescued animals. “It was a challenge to be outdoors with animals in 100-degree heat. Our coastal animals need 55-degree water; it was a nightmare. But staying cool in here is a piece of cake.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

California State Fair

Where: Cal Expo, 1600 Exposition Blvd., Sacramento

When: July 14-30. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Sundays.

Admission: $12; seniors (age 62 and up), $10; youth (ages 5-12), $8; children age 4 and under admitted free. Parking, $15.


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