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When the Utah State Fair opens on Thursday, it will be the first since Clark Caras was named executive director in April. But it certainly won't be his first time at the fair.

"When I was growing up, it was Christmas in September," he said. "We were always at the State Fair. I feel like my life has come full circle."

Even before he began exhibiting prize sheep when he was 8, Caras and his family made the fair their home. Back in the 1960s, families could stay on the fairgrounds overnight in trailers.

"I wandered these grounds in the middle of the night," Caras said. "And rode the giant yellow slide when we weren't supposed to. We'd take our own gunny sacks and have races all night long."

He added with a laugh: "I think I owe the guy who owns it several hundred dollars."

Caras grew up on a sheep ranch in Benjamin, just outside Spanish Fork. "We worked for months and months, raising our lambs, raising our calves — all with the target of bringing them to the Utah State Fair," he said. "That's how I paid for my education."

And that's still part of the fair today. At the junior livestock sale on Saturday at 2 p.m., young Utahns will be selling 1,200- to 1,300-pound steers for something in the neighborhood of $1 a pound; 110- to 140-pound sheep for between $1.80 and $2 a pound; and 250- to 275-pound hogs for around 75 to 80 cents a pound.

"This place represents my scholarship and thousands and thousands of other kids' scholarships," Caras said.

That State Fair tradition stretches across four generations in scores of Utah families. Caras remembers big events, like the time his then-16-year-old sister was exhibiting sheep there. "A young man walked through the barns, met her and said, 'I'm going to marry that girl,' " Caras said. "And he did. They now raise sheep and hogs in Benjamin. And they have three boys who all exhibited here."

As expected, this year's fair continues its focus on home-grown food and home-grown talent. The entertainment includes Utah musicians, such as the band Fictionist, the Salt Lake Men's Choir and singer Tay Barton. And the three free stages will be filled with local bands, singers, cloggers and more.

As always, there are a few new offerings for fairgoers, including Aussie Kingdom's kangaroos, wallaroos and bearded dragons. Also, the Sea Lion Splash returns with the addition of a pair of baby sea lions, and a group of geese, which are imprinted on Paul "The Gooseman" Messerschmidt, will be outfitted in costumes and will follow The Gooseman around the grounds.

This year's culinary adventures include alligator, yak, beaver, python and raccoon dishes, along with the prime attraction — the maggot melt. That is, Indonesian grubs that are deep-fried and sprinkled in the middle of a grilled-cheese sandwich.

"Teenagers come into the park and their first question is, 'Where is the most disgusting thing I can eat?' Then they can brag about it," Caras said. "In my day, it was the deep-fried Twinkies. We've now graduated to the chocolate-covered scorpions and the maggot melt."

The novelty food is all part of the fair's mix of old and new.

"The days of the cotton candy and candy apples have kind of been superseded by the deep-fried butter and deep-fried chocolate scorpions, but you can still get the cotton candy and the candy apples," Caras said.

Utah State Fair

The fair runs Sept. 8-18 at the Utah Fairgrounds, 155 N. 1000 West, Salt Lake City.

Admission • $10; $7 seniors and youth; free for children 5 and under.

Parking • $6

All-You-Can Ride wristbands • $25; $18 for matinees

Season admission • $10

Also • $5 admission on Sept. 8; free admission Sept. 11 for military, law enforcement, emergency services personnel and their families with ID; $7 admission Sept. 12; $3 discount tickets available at Smith's Food and Drug stores.

Info • For schedules, visit —

Construction and parking

Major construction will be completed at the intersection of Redwood Road and South Temple, and the North Temple viaduct is now open. At least one lane of traffic will be open in each direction at all times.

TRAX construction continues on North Temple between 2400 West and the Jordan River bridge. One lane of traffic will be open in each direction, but left turns will be allowed only at traffic signals.

TRAX construction continues in the center of North Temple from 600 West to 800 West, and in the outside lanes from 800 West to 1000 West.

All fairgrounds parking lots will be open.