MONROE — Esme Wright had never raced ducks before.
Turns out, she’s a natural.
The 8-year-old from Edmonds was crowned champion in the first round of Great American Duck Races on Thursday, the opening day of the Evergreen State Fair.
Her crown was a visor decorated in the likeness of a cartoonish duck, complete with a big orange bill.
“You hold them close to the water and you splash to get them going,” she said, explaining her technique for winning her way through preliminary rounds and into the finals.
About 100 people gathered in stands around a rectangular pool to watch the races, which take place four times each day.
Audience volunteers held Mallard ducks at the starting line on one side of the pool. On the signal — the sound made by a bright yellow duck call — they released the fowl, which splashed across the pool, each in their own lane.
It was fun, Esme said, and she might come back for more races, though she was looking forward to enjoying some rides first.
The 110th Evergreen State Fair continues through Labor Day. The annual event draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
On Thursday, a brief morning sprinkle didn’t shorten lines for carnival ride wristbands or fresh-baked scones. Some fairgoers darted into the shelter of barns filled with animals, or stopped by covered areas where vendors sold socks, spice rubs, hot tubs, seat cushions and an assortment other items.
Families moved around the fairgrounds, parents pushing strollers or holding children’s hands.
Brynna, Braden and Bryce were there with their parents and grandparents.
“We always make it an annual event and come with the family,” mom Kristen Kowalski said.
Bryce, 3, dismounted from a pony and soon after was perched on the shoulders of Brynna, 11. Braden, 6, fidgeted while waiting for the group to head toward the rest of the kids rides. He wasn’t just there for carnival, though. He had fun cheering on his older sister in the 3-on-3 basketball tournament, he said. Brynna’s team won two games Thursday morning.
Grandfather Joe Kowalski has been taking his family to the fair for decades.
“We used to wait for the opening day,” he said. “I remember the kids would drive me crazy.”
Thursday also was the Fair Cares Food Drive. Price of admission was three cans of food per person.
Maddy Ogden, 18, and Meg Gray, 29, volunteered at the Green Gate entrance, gathering and boxing up donations. Within 15 minutes of the fair opening, the two already had loaded and stacked several boxes.
The women grew up going to the fair. Ogden showed chickens for a few years. She’s a recent Snohomish High School graduate. Gray has been coming to the fair for as long as she can remember.
Their advice is to spend the day and check out everything.
“Don’t miss going all the way down to the cows,” Gray said. “I think sometimes people don’t come far enough down toward the Green Gate to see all of those animals.”
Both say the food is one of their favorite parts. Ogden always gets a funnel cake, while Gray prefers the onion burst.
They weren’t alone in their appreciation of the food.
As the fair was getting underway, a young boy and his mother rounded the corner of a building that separates most of the carnival rides from the rows of food stands. They walked into a medley of smells.
“I know what I want for lunch,” the boy told his mom eagerly.
It was 10:27 a.m.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; email@example.com