Not a pandemic or the threat of heavy precipitation could rain on the YMBL South Texas State Fair’s parade opening night on Thursday. More than 200 people, who were given free admission by YMBL President Harvey Zernial, gathered around the main entrance eagerly waiting for the clock to strike […]
Not a pandemic or the threat of heavy precipitation could rain on the YMBL South Texas State Fair’s parade opening night on Thursday.
More than 200 people, who were given free admission by YMBL President Harvey Zernial, gathered around the main entrance eagerly waiting for the clock to strike 6 p.m. — the official grand opening of the fair.
While Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were relatively dry during the day, Zernial, who has been a part of the YMBL for about 30 years, said the threat of wet weather comes with the territory of hosting a fair in Southeast Texas. On Monday, parts of the region saw anywhere from 6 to 18 inches of rain.
“I’m still nervous,” he said. “(Thursday we) were blessed — in a sense. Tomorrow doesn’t look so pretty, but when we have a fair, we always expect something — some rain. We’re always OK with one or two days, even three, because we still do well. But we’re ready for nine solid days of attendance, rides and fun.”
Once 6 p.m. finally arrived, almost 16 months of built-up excitement stampeded through the entrance gates framed by black chain-link fences. Parents, children, old and young basked in the traditional fair sights, sounds and smells from the first fair in the region in almost two years.
The grand opening Thursday comes after the fair’s cancellation in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic — a result of Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick’s disaster declaration — and the YMBL’s decision to postpone the fair in February 2021 until May.
“I’m probably the most excited as the president of the (YMBL),” Zernial said Thursday before the official grand opening. “This is our fundraiser and this is how we operate all the things we do throughout the year. I’m ready to go.”
Meghan Richards, a Port Arthur resident, and her family were a part of the lucky attendees who were given free admission. She along with her two children, Elena and Luke, have been waiting all year for the fair to finally open.
Richards said the fair, which they’ve been to several times, provided an opportunity to spend time with the family at an outdoor event.
“(Elena and Luke) are excited for this fair. We’ve been cooped up inside for so long,” Richards said. “This is a simple outing for them to have fun and get back to some normalcy.”
But while Richards admits the time out at the fair is mostly for her two children to spend time at the fair’s Kids Fun Zone, she does have her sights set on Rudy’s Kabob stand among other fair foods.
Equally as excited were the 70-plus vendors — fewer than previous years because of the postponement — waiting to greet and serve the fair patrons. For vendors like Camellia Dennis, the fair and other events like it are her livelihood. Dennis, a vendor from Hughes Spring, is on her third event since the state began opening, but the rush of getting back into the swing of things is still present.
“We’ve been off from all of our events for almost 15 months — before the previous two events,” Dennis said. “I am a little nervous, but the events have been well received and I am excited for this one.”
Dennis, who owns a few funnel cake and lemonade stands, is in her eighth year as a vendor at the South Texas State Fair.
As the night went on, the sound of laughter and the smell of savory food filled the fairgrounds. But while Zernial knows the fair’s first night normally doesn’t bring the biggest turnout, he anticipates the turnout to be larger as the weather improves over the course of the next several days.
Free admission days
The South Texas State Fair will have several free admission days, including H-E-B Fair Share for Hunger on May 23, where guests can gain free admission to the fair by bringing six non-perishable H-E-B-brand canned vegetables. On May 24, all guests will gain free admission courtesy of the Provost Umphrey Law Firm.
The 10-day fair also will have a Military and First Responder Appreciation night May 27, allowing free admission to any current or retired first responder and military personnel.
Tickets can be purchased in advance at FordPark.com to avoid waiting in line at the ticket booth. Online tickets are $10 each, plus taxes and fees, for all ages and parking is free.
How to get to the fair
Before heading to the state fair, the YMBL along with the Texas Department of Transportation released information Wednesday of road closures and how it will affect traffic. The most prominent closure will be the Major Drive exit ramp from Interstate 10 westbound. The closure will last until the end of the fair on May 30.
However, Major Drive and Fannett Road will be accessible from all other points during this period.
YMBL advised attendees who are coming from the north and are traveling westbound on I-10 to exit the Walden Road exit ramp and veer right. Once attendees reach Major Drive, they will turn left onto Major Drive, pass under I-10 and turn left onto the service road before seeing signs for Gate 4.
For attendees coming from the west of the city, YMBL advises to take FM 365 and turn onto Texas 124 toward Major Drive. Upon arriving at the flashing red light at Major Drive, attendees will have to turn left on Major Drive into Ford Park using Gate 2.
Those coming to the fair from U.S. 96, Cardinal Drive, Mid-County or Port Arthur are advised to take Texas 124 toward Major Drive. Once at Major Drive, attendees will turn right and use Gate 2.
Lastly, fairgoers coming from the west end of Beaumont will use Major Drive, cross under I-10, turn left onto the service road and enter using Ford Park Gate 4 — the main marquee entrance.