While Saturday morning marked the opening of the 68th annual Howard County Fair, you might not have realized it walking through the fairgrounds in West Friendship.

With the amusement rides not yet open and a gray sky overhead, the grounds and exhibits halls exuded a calm serenity not associated with a fair atmosphere. And that's exactly the way Catonsville resident Donna Fisher and her family like it.

"We look forward to it evey year," said Fisher, who has been coming to the fair since she was a girl.

"It's family-oriented. ... It's settled (in the morning). It's not all the crowds. It's very nice and calming and the kids enjoy it."

Fair Board of Director Melissa Covolesky said Saturday is intended to be a preamble to Sunday, which includes the grand opening parade and the Ms. Howard County Farm Bureau contest.

"It's calm but not quiet," said Covolesky, who pointed out the various contests and exhibits on display.

Covolesky said most exhibitors are still setting up for the week on Saturday morning, and that it was not even a full fair day until about four years ago.

"We used to not charge full admission, but the fair has become so overwhelmingly popular it's now a full day," she said. "There was no reason not to enjoy a full weekend day."

In addition, Saturday is Armed Forces Day, which allows free admission to all active duty military members and their family members. 

Heeyoung Weddington, of Columbia, is an active military member who came to the fair for the first time Saturday. 

"I didn't realized there are so many farms in this area, which is pretty impressive. Kids don't really get an opportunity to experience this kid of stuff," said Weddington, who was at the fair with her daughter.

"It's very nice, except for the weather," she said as light rain fell.

Covolesky said he Howard County Fair emphasizes the agricultural components of the community.

"Everything we do for the year focuses on having the fair represent the agricultural history of this county,"  Covolesky said. "To lose sight of that would really diminish the educational value for the county."

However, that doesn't mean the fair isn't fun for everyone.

"We do see a lot of people who come for the rides, so we have enough for everybody," she said.