At first sight, you might think it's a giant moon bounce, a quarantine area or an eco-friendly livestock barn. Actually, the 100-foot-long, 80- foot-wide, inflatable oval arena is the site of Sudden Impact Paintball - the newest addition to the 126th annual Maryland State Fair.
Even after 45 years of running the fair, Howard "Max" Mosner (president and general manager of the Timonium fairgrounds) isn't afraid of change. In fact, he embraces it.
"We're always looking to bring new attractions to the fair," Mosner says. "It keeps things interesting."
This year, regular fairgoers will notice a few differences, including the addition of a game that is geared toward the more adventurous crowd.
In Sudden Impact Paintball - an event that will cost fairgoers about $5 extra - contestants are separated into two teams that are pitted against each other in a game of wits, strategy and marksmanship.
Each contestant is given a standard paintball gun and tries to eliminate or shoot as many players from the other team without being hit by any paintballs.
Meanwhile, spectators can see into the giant inflatable arena.
Andrew Cashman, assistant general manager of the state fairgrounds, first saw the game at the Arkansas State Fair last year.
"When we witnessed it, there were huge lines of fairgoers waiting to participate," Cashman says. "We thought that it would be great to bring paintball to our own fair in Maryland."
Cashman, along with other Maryland State Fair officials, frequently visits other state fairs throughout the country to get ideas for new attractions and entertainment. Both Cashman and Mosner have high hopes for the new attraction. But Cashman said it won't necessarily return as a regular feature.
"It depends on the success of the game and on the opinion of the fairgoers," Cashman says. "That will determine whether or not we bring it back next year."
Other changesAlso this year, for the first time in seven years, some concerts will cost extra. If fairgoers want to see John Michael Montgomery, INXS or Dark Star Orchestra, tickets can be purchased at the fairgrounds on the day of the concert in addition to the $6 fair admission.
However, fairgoers can purchase concert tickets in advance at ticketstobuy.com, which includes admission to the fair at no extra cost.
Mosner said he expects about 6,000 attendees for INXS and about 3,000 each for John Michael Montgomery and Dark Star Orchestra.
More featuresIn addition to paintball and concerts, fairgoers can expect rides for all ages, locally harvested food, multiple forms of agricultural education, live radio broadcasts, exhibitions, live music, tours and other activities. Tonight, fairgoers can attend "Ridemania," a preview night where all the rides, games and food stands are accessible before the fair's grand opening tomorrow morning.
Mosner has brought back many of the crowd favorites this year. According to Mosner, the J Bar W Ranch Battle of the Beasts Rodeo, the Swifty Swine Racing and Swimming Pig Show, and the Birthing Center always attract large crowds of fairgoers.
Although Mosner and Cashman have made considerable efforts to bring new entertainment to the fair, educating others about agriculture is still their main concern.
"We want to get people here with entertainment and give them education," Mosner says. "People are hungry for knowledge, and we still have a responsibility, not only to educate fairgoers, but to emphasize the importance of agriculture in Maryland."
The Maryland State Fair will run tomorrow through Sept. 3 with a ride preview tonight from 5 to 11. Hours are 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily, with ride hours varying. The fair is at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, 2200 York Road in Timonium. For more information, call 410-252-0200 or go to marylandstatefair.com.