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Amy Paradysz

Amy Paradysz is a "Scene & Heard" columnist for the Portland Press Herald and a "Seen" photographer for She edits everything from proposal bids to blogs to cookbooks--and verbally edits everything she drives by.

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Posted: August 29, 2018

Go for the fair, stay for the weekend

Written by: Amy Paradysz

The grandstand at the Fryeburg Fair, happening Sept. 30 to Oct. 7. The area also offers the Saco River for canoeing, a climb up Jockey Cap, and leaf peeping. Photo by Rachel Andrews Damon

It’s fall fair season, and with the summer tourists heading out, there’s no better time for a mini staycation right here in Maine.

With an ongoing or upcoming fair as inspiration, these three trip planners are full of suggestions for fun stops nearby. Whether you choose the artsy seaside Boothbay Harbor Fest, earthy-crunchy Common Ground Fair or classic Fryeburg Fair, there’s much more to hold your attention than the fairs themselves.

All three options are within an hour and a half drive of Portland. You can find yourself nestled in western Maine’s mountains, camping with farmers or staying somewhere posh in Boothbay for the Fishin’ for Fashion show, while discovering new favorite places to stop and celebrating longtime fair traditions.

But wherever you go, it shouldn’t be hard to find a candied apple.

Visit the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, at left, while in town for Boothbay Harbor Fest. Photo courtesy of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Boothbay Harbor Fest

Through Sept. 9, throughout Boothbay.

Boothbay Harbor Fest is a smattering of fun happenings around the Boothbay peninsula, including the three-course Taste of Labor Day at Boothbay Harbor Inn ($15 for tastings and live music at a dozen local restaurants over the three-day weekend); a two-day music and arts festival called East Side Vibe at Ocean Point Marina in East Boothbay (Sept. 8 and 9, $10); and a uniquely Maine fashion show featuring original designs made from the marine industry, Fishin’ for Fashion (Sept. 8, $30/$40 VIP).

While you’re online reserving those tickets, make a reservation for Carousel Music Theater (196 Townsend Ave., Boothbay) for the musical dinner show “Lights, Camera, Action: Let’s Go to the Movies” (running through Sept. 22). Also in Boothbay, explore some of the 300 beautiful acres at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (132 Botanical Gardens Drive, Boothbay) or take a ride back in time to vintage Vacationland (sort of) at Boothbay Railway Village (586 Wiscasset Road, Boothbay), where you can ride an authentic steam locomotive surrounded by historic Maine buildings preserved in a recreated village.

If you’ve got time for a meandering drive a bit out of the way, watch waves crash against spectacular rock formations at Pemaquid Point Light in Bristol (3115 Bristol Road, New Harbor). It’s worth it.

Common Ground Fair

Sept. 21-23, 294 Crosby Brook Road, Unity.

A horse-drawn wagon offers tours at the Common Ground Fair in Unity. Nearby, in Thorndike, check out Bryant’s Stove and Music Museum. Photo by John Williams

This unique fair is a celebration of rural living – everything from draft horses and sheep dogs to a working organic farm, sustainably managed woodlot and organic orchards – organized by Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). Quirky events include a donkey and mule show, Maine’s only organic 5K foot race and the Harry S. Truman Games, which involve pitching manure for distance and accuracy.

Stay in an RV, tent or camper at Farwell’s Corner Campground down the road or stay at Bioregional Conservancy Retreat in Thorndike, where you can help with farm chores if you’d like. While in Unity, visit Northern Solstice Alpaca Farm (141 Crosby Brook Road), which has farm tours and a gift shop, and Younity Winery and Vineyards (317 Alion Road) to sample fruit wines with names like Bitchin’ Crab Apple.

Don’t overlook Bryant’s Stove and Music Museum (27 Stovepipe Alley, Thorndike), an in-home collection of refinished antique stoves from the past three centuries, as well as old-time music boxes, Victrolas and player pianos, and a must-see-it-to-believe-it doll collection.

Fryeburg Fair

Sept. 30 to Oct. 7, 203 Maine St., Fryeburg.

Maine’s largest agricultural fair boasts an impressive number of livestock competitions, nightly music performances, midway rides, carnival games and country competitions such as the firemen’s muster, skillet and anvil throws, a tractor pull, harness racing, a sheep dog trial and Woodmen’s Day with men and women from all over the nation competing in lumberjack sports. If you’ve got a camper, check out the fair’s reasonably priced site rates and stay a while.

Fryeburg is a great starting point for outdoor adventures, such as exploring the Saco River by kayak or canoe, hiking the Jockey Cap Trail to get a stellar view of dozens of distant mountain peaks or embarking on a leaf peeping drive in White Mountain National Forest.

Less than 15 minutes west of Fryeburg, North Conway, N.H., is a shopper’s paradise in scenic Mount Washington Valley.


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