In a room at her family's farm in Glen Arm, 13-year-old Katie Yoder is preparing her rabbits to be the fluffiest, furriest versions of themselves they can be.
Katie checks two-year-old Artemis, one of about 30 to 40 rabbits she breeds and raises at Cozy Hill Rabbits and Cavies, in preparation for showing Artemis and others at the 136th annual Maryland State Fair, which which runs Aug. 25 to Sept. 4 at the fairgrounds in Timonium.
"She's molting," Katie said as she stroked Artemis's shedding coat. "The judges don't really like that but it's only about 10 points."
Katie will show Holland Lops, a small breed of rabbits, and Cavy guinea pigs at the fair. The purebred animals are judged on shape, color, hip size and other features. Winners take home cash premiums and ribbons.
Artemis, a black tort Holland Lop, won best of breed at the fair in 2016.
"Its like a dog show almost," said Kara Yoder, Katie's mother and a 4-H Baltimore County Rabbit and Cavy Club co-leader. "There's different breeds and each one is judged against others."
The rabbit show is one of many exhibits planned for the fair this year,
"The participants are from every walk of life," spokeswoman Edie Bernier said of the 11-day event. "You've got thousands of exhibitors, from the mountains to the city to the farmlands, bringing their best creations to compete for ribbons and bragging rights."
New to the fair this year is a feature focused on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, skills.
Offered at what fair officials call an Innovation Station, the feature will host interactive exhibits, including a butterfly encounter and agriculture planetarium, that are focused on connecting STEM skills with agriculture, said Robert Fogle, director of agriculture programs for the fair.
"When you think about agriculture everything involved is based on STEM," Fogle said, citing as an example the fact that satellites and mathematics are used in planting corn, determining crop yield and the use and levels of irrigation needs.
At the Butterfly Encounter, fairgoers will enter a 15-by-30 foot tube filled with live butterflies they can entice with Q-tips dipped in nectar, which the butterflies sip. Visitors will learn about the importance of butterflies to the pollination process and leave with information about using plants to attract butterflies to their homes, Fogle said.
The Innovation Station also will feature a pop-up, inflatable planetarium dome showing four different presentations a day on the stars, moon, lunar phases and the use of those phases in agriculture, while displays from the Maryland Grain Utilization Board will focus on the potential to power racing cars with ethanol, a renewable fuel made from plant material.
Other offerings this year include a birthing center where fairgoers will have the opportunity to witness the birth of calves and piglets and the hatching of chicks. The Baltimore County Farm Bureau Young Farmers, a youth group of future farmers, will also host traditional hand-milking lessons as part of the group's annual Milk-it fundraiser.
National and local bands will perform at the fair, including the Baltimore-based rock band and opening act, Fatally Yours.
Sabrina Carpenter, a Pennsylvania musician known for a star role in the Disney Channel's Girl Meets World and a recurring role in The Goodwin Games, will perform pop songs as part of her 30-city summer tour. Pennsylvania rock band, Halestorm, and YouTube cover star Alex Aiona will also perform.
Keeping it safe
About 400,000 people are expected to attend the fair this year, Bernier said, which brings safety to the forefront of this year's planning.
An accident at the Ohio State Fair last month killed one man and injured seven others, according to media reports. Eighteen-year-old Tyler Jarrell was killed after he was thrown with a row of seats that smashed into a support beam from a ride called the Fire Ball. The malfunction is thought to have been caused by excessive corrosion of a portion of the ride's interior.
"[The state does] thorough inspections and an independent ride inspector comes and checks the ride," Bernier said. "Safety is, of course, our first concern."
Maryland prohibits the operation of amusement attractions unless the attraction has been registered, inspected and issued a certificate of inspection by the Commissioner of Labor and Industry.
The Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which provides independent ride inspections and checks amusement rides, has inspected Maryland State Fair operator Deggeller Attractions twice in the past month, in line with state regulations, department spokeswoman Theresa Blaner said.
The rides at the state fair are inspected at each setup and again daily by the owner, Blaner said. The requirements have resulted in an accident rate of one thousandth of a percent, which the department has categorized as "minor."
Of the 6,462 inspections it conducted in 2016, the Maryland Amusement Ride Safety Inspection Unit reported three accidents.
"Rider safety is our priority," Blaner said in an emailed statement. "Our thorough inspection process looks for adherence to safety regulations as well as setup and maintenance requirements."
In the meantime, back in Glen Arm, the Yoder family plans to enjoy all of what the fair has to offer this season, though they won't have much time for rides at the midway. In addition to her rabbits and guinea pigs, Katie will also show eggs, vegetables, fruit and preserves, she said.
"When I was little I'd ride the rides and we'd go see the cows, but once you start showing you can't think of the rides as much," she added. "You're just too busy."
If you go
The Maryland State Fair runs Aug. 25 to Sept. 4 and opens at 9 a.m. daily with varying closing times. A special Ridemania preview night will be hosted Aug. 24 from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Admission is $8 for adults, ages 12 and up; $6 for seniors, ages 62 and up; and free for children, 5 and under, while rides are individually priced. Food staples such as cotton candy, corn dogs, crab cakes and Maryland corn on the cob will be available for purchase
Livestock and horse shows are available every day starting at 9 a.m. Demonstration and exhibit halls are open weekdays from noon to 10 p.m., weekends from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Labor Day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Rides open at 10 a.m. on weekends and Labor Day and at noon on weekdays.
Organizers suggest taking Light Rail to the Timonium stop, but limited, free parking will be available at the Deereco Road Park and Ride lot on a first-come, first-served basis. Limited parking is also available for $5 at the fairgrounds.
The fair, at 2200 York Road, is accessible from Interstate 83 northbound at the Padonia Road exit. Go east to York Road and south on York Road to the fairgrounds entrance on the right.
Drivers exiting onto York Road northbound from Interstate 695 must U-turn to approach the fairgrounds entrance from York Road southbound as there will be no left hand turns allowed into fairground gates.
A previous version of this story gave the incorrect anniversary year of the Maryland State Fair. It is the 136th annual Maryland State Fair.