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Fair play this year, even better next?

Attendance was up 23.9% over the festivities in 2002

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As the sun sets, golden, over the final day of the Utah State Fair, the scent of barbecued beef hangs near the carnival. You can hear children's screams from the rides and cheers from the crowd at the demolition derby.

As the sky gets darker, a dark rumor enters your mind. There might not be a fair next year?

Will Utah miss out on chain-saw-carved bears, on top-notch entertainment, on exotic animals like the four tigers, two leopards and lion cub, on a sculpture made entirely of butter?

What about the inflatable XBox arcade? The Centennial Village where mountain men and Indians sleep in tents for a week and a half? Is it all to go away?

"Absolutely not," marketing coordinator Denise Stanger said. The state fair should receive some funding from the Legislature, as other parks throughout the state do, she said.

Attendance at this year's fair is up significantly. Saturday's figures show that 23.9 percent more people than last year showed up. Attendance for opening day doubled.

So what was it? Was it the band 3 Doors Down? Was it the tireless efforts of the cleaning crews? Was it the depiction of the cow jumping over the moon, complete with cat playing the fiddle and dish running away with the spoon?

Maybe it was the marketing. Stanger praised the efforts of Razor Creative, the firm responsible for slogans like "Fair today. Cardigan tomorrow," while depicting a woolly sheep.

Chairman of the board of directors for the fair, Lorin Moench, said the $1 admission fees on the opening day were probably responsible. And it's only going to get better from here.

Moench said he traveled to various fairs throughout the country, getting ideas for events or exhibits for next year. Here's something in store for Utah's children.

Picture children taking part in a hands-on exhibit called "Small Hands on the Farm." Each child dons an apron and gets to carry out various farm duties like driving a small tractor to haul hay, planting seeds and harvesting. Moench said the board recently approved the exhibit for next year and will be working to get it under way.

So, if the sun went down for its final time on the fair this year, there's always a chance to come back. And maybe next year, Jerry Leirer and his 3,600 square feet of video game floor space will be back with all the latest video games on 54 consoles, including Madden 2004 on one 12-foot screen.

E-MAIL: jdougherty@desnews.com