Clay County Fair begins Thursday: What you need to know on traffic, safety issues

Zoey Fields

The Clay County Fair begins Thursday, March 30, and runs for 11 days straight, offering five new rides and 12 new food vendors.

Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook, Emergency Management Director John Ward and Clay County Fair Executive Director Tasha Hyder held a press conference Wednesday to discuss fair safety and traffic regulation.

The fair is expected to bring in more than 120,000 guests during its 2023 season, Sheriff Cook said. It is one of the largest events in Clay County and a “premier” fair in Northeast Florida, she said, bringing in traffic from nearby counties, south Georgia and the entire Clay community.
The Clay County Fair opens March 30 and runs through April 9.Photo byClay County Agricultural Fair

“The safety and security of everyone attending the fair, including those working, is paramount,” Cook said.

Clay County Sheriff’s Office, Fire and Rescue, Emergency Management, Orange Park Medical Center and fair personnel have all taken part in months-long training preparing for different incidents ranging from injuries, illnesses, missing persons and “everything in between,” Cook said.

County officials are asking for guests (and even those not planning to attend the fair) to download the SaferWatch app, which the sheriff’s office will use as its primary communication tool for important information and traffic updates, she said.

“Traffic will be slow on State Road 16, but we will keep it moving,” she said. “If you are not attending the fair but need to get to the surrounding areas, we ask that you look for alternate routes and check the SaferWatch app for relevant traffic updates.”

Cook provided a list of five tips for fair visitors to remember over the next 11 days:

  1. If you are bringing a child (or someone of a vulnerable population) to the fair, take a photo of them before arriving so the sheriff’s office knows exactly what they were wearing in the case of a missing person incident.
  2. If you are dropping children off at the fair, have a plan to pick them up promptly. Vehicles will not be allowed to stay parked on State Road 16 while waiting for passengers to be picked up, she said.
  3. Prepare adequately for the weather (i.e. bring umbrellas, sunscreen, lip balm, etc.)
  4. If you see something suspicious, find a sheriff’s deputy or fair personnel to report it to. Tips can also be submitted via the SaferWatch app.
  5. Remember to ride the rides before eating the fair food, Cook said, laughing and noting it is her favorite tip.

Emergency Management Director John Ward thanked all the community partners who work together each year to make the fair successful and enjoyable. He said that the Public Works department has installed new lanes in the parking lot to help with potential flooding, an issue several guests encountered last year.

“Of course, hopefully, this year we do not get as much rainfall,” he said. “But even then, we do not expect to have any ‘stuck car’ issues this year.”

The county has also established a comprehensive traffic plan and acquired additional message boards to help assist drivers, he said.

During the 2022 fair, a ride operator was injured after he became wedged between pieces of the floor on the “Hydra” ride. The man was trying to get a hat from underneath the ride and there was a miscommunication between him and another operator before he ended up stuck, he told News4Jax.

“It was an unfortunate incident that happened, but a lot of safety protocols were also bypassed by that individual,” Tasha Hyder said. “These rides go through a state inspection and they will not open unless they are passed by the state inspector.”

Click here to visit the Clay County Fair webpage for additional information and daily schedules.

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Accredited journalist with experience covering a wide range of stories consisting of breaking news, city and county government, crime and courts, feature stories and local interest. Facebook Bulletin writer, reporter; The Learning Curve. Twitter: @zoeyfields0

Jacksonville, FL

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