By LINDA CHION KENNEY
Coming off what it calls a record-breaking year for Hillsborough County Fair attendance, board members who oversee the annual event are coming back with a second fall event, this one called the Hillsborough County Fall Festival.
The entry price is $10 per carload of attendees for the Oct. 29 through 31 festival at the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds in Dover, at the intersection of State Road 60 and Sydney Washer Road. Festival hours are 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, 1 to 10 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
The inaugural fall festival precedes the Tampa Bay Festival of Lights and Santa’s Village, scheduled to open Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, and close Sunday, Dec. 26, featuring “a million lights from entrance to exit.”
Fall festival tickets, available at the gate only, are inclusive of all activities except food and drink. Featured activities include a family hayride, a haunted hayride, 7 to 9 p.m. nightly; a hay maze; costume contests; sack races; scarecrow-making; cake walk; pumpkin painting and carving; and trunk-and-treat activities.
On tap also, in the entertainment building, is a Hometown Hillsborough Chili Cook-Off, featuring tables outfitted with electricity to allow for the required on-site cooking. The cost to enter as an individual or group is $10 per space. Set-up begins Saturday, Oct. 30, at noon.
The entry deadline is Oct. 25. Tastings are scheduled to run Oct. 30 from 3 to 5 p.m., with judging, based on aroma, color, texture, flavor and heat, taking place at 4:30 p.m.
Chili for this contest is defined as any combination of ground, chopped or cubed meats; spices and seasonings; a liquid, such as broth; and tomatoes, onions, peppers and beans. Entries can be meatless, bean-less, vegetarian, chicken or turkey (“white”) chili. Sausage, fresh or smoked, is allowed as well.
A plus for festival tasters is that chili served in 4-ounce cups must be made from scratch on site. Entrants are required to prepare three gallons of chili. As festival officials put it, “You don’t want to run out of chili for our Fan Favorite Award,” which is in addition to monetary awards for entrants who finish first ($200), second ($100) and third ($50). The awards ceremony is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.
The inaugural Hillsborough County Fall Festival follows the Hillsborough County Fair, an eight-day event, which this year ran from Sept. 23 through Oct. 3, and precedes the annual Festival of Lights and Santa’s Village, featuring a nearly two-mile drive-through of lights.
Festival of lights hours are 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 25-28, Dec. 2-5, and Dec. 9-12. Also, Thursday, Dec. 16 through Sunday, Dec. 26. The cost is $25 per vehicle carrying up to eight people, and tickets can be purchased online.
According to festival officials, the lights are “designed to appeal to all ages and backgrounds” and themed to “Florida and traditional winter holidays, representing Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and more.” Contracted to provide the lights is Brandano Displays Inc., known nationally for its community holiday display events.
Festival organizers promise “continual guest amazement” with “80 themed display areas with more than 250 larger-than-life pieces” featuring such things as “elves wrestling alligators to a giant gingerbread house with candy and cakes.”
Plan also to walk through Santa’s Village, featuring Santa’s Barnyard (including camel rides), games and activities (including face-painting), holiday movies and shorts, holiday “treats and delicacies” and “social media friendly ops,” including visits with Santa.
The village itself is set to be outfitted with “more than 3,000 feet of lights on buildings and 500 animate drippling lights on trees.”
For more, visit www.HillsboroughCountyFair.com.
Meanwhile, Homemade Hillsborough Chili Cook-Off entry forms, available online, must be received by Oct. 25, either via mail (P.O. Box 100, Sydney, FL 33587) or hand-delivered to the fair office at the fairgrounds (215 Sydney Washer Road, Dover). Fair office hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Craft vendor applications are available online as well.
For more information, contact fair manager Suzanne Holcomb by phone at 813-737-3247 or email email@example.com/.