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Fair holds special day for special guests

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By Kacie Goode

Hours before the Nelson County Fair opened for the general public Friday, about two dozen community members were having the time of their lives. For some of them, it is the only time this year they will get to attend the carnival, and the only time they can enjoy it without the often overwhelming aspects of a public event.

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The fair opened early — running select rides — for participants of the Guthrie Opportunity Center and other programs in the area serving adults with special needs and those who require other services and care. It was a time just for them, without the loud music, crowds of strangers, long lines and rush of entering and exiting rides. And while the heat index limited the time participants could be outside, those who were able to take part enjoyed their time.

“We rode that one that goes around and around,” said Diane Shields, referencing a ride she and her friend, Joann, went on Friday. “It was a lot of fun. I had a great time.”

Across the midway, fellow participants were enjoying a large swinging ship ride and others were spinning away inside colorful dragons. They also enjoyed cotton candy — courtesy of the carnival — and hotdogs and chips supplied by fair officials.

While this year was the first time in a while the opportunity has been offered in Nelson County, it’s becoming a more common practice for carnival companies across the country to offer a reserved time for fairgoers with special needs.

“This is something our family has been doing for many, many years,” said Freddy Miller, owner of Miller Spectacular Shows, which is putting on the fair locally. For a time, he said, the practice had fallen away from the fair industry, but it’s making a comeback and is something his business has offered in other counties.

“It’s great when you can provide a dedicated time for those with special needs, that way they are able to enjoy it and they don’t have the hustle and bustle of the rest of the crowd,” Miller said.

Some of the participants who came out Friday, for example, have autism, and can become overwhelmed by loud sounds, lights and crowds. With the dedicated time, they could enjoy themselves more freely.

Miller also said the reserved time helps to ensure the safety of participants, who can receive extra assistance when boarding a ride and whose caregivers can accompany them to help when needed.

“It helps that people that work with those with special needs are here as well, because they understand what their capabilities are,” Miller said. “We don’t want to put them on something that isn’t safe” for any physical limitations they may have.

Miller said as the events gain popularity with carnivals, he’s seeing opportunities for fairgoers of all abilities expand.

“We are able to take those with special needs and allow them to do so much more than what we were capable of 50 years ago,” he said.

Beckie Downs, who assists with the fair and helped coordinate Friday’s event, said she looks for Nelson County to be able to offer an outing again next year, and fair officials will discuss how to go about that.