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The Sonoma County Fair opens for business today, launching a 16-day run likely to bring in more than a quarter-million visitors for what will be its 78th annual season.

In a world dominated by digital reality, the event offers a real- world sensory buffet designed to whet fairgoers’ appetites for food, farm life and the thrills and spills of the carnival.

But the challenge of maintaining relevance even as it preserves the traditional focus on Sonoma County’s agricultural bounty means the fair is still evolving and adding new elements, which, among other things, highlight the public’s growing interest in environmental sustainability, fair personnel said.

A “Greentivities” educational area added to the fair in 2012 is going strong, featuring interactive exhibits on drought-tolerant plants and food production, energy efficiency, water recycling and the like.

New this year, in partnership with the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, the fair will offer free valet parking and a $2 discount on admission for those who arrive by bicycle. The “Bike Barn” bicycle check will be located at Brookwood Avenue and Bennett Valley Road. The fair also will host weekly bike rodeos for kids on Tuesdays, featuring safe-riding instruction and bike maintenance help, fair manager Tawny Tesconi said.

There’s even a touch of Burning Man at the county fair this year — a sculpted version of the word LOVE in 12-foot-tall letters created by a Reno artist for display at the annual encampment in the Black Rock Desert. Some fire dancers and other “burners” are expected to help celebrate its exhibition at 8 p.m. today, culminating in a ceremony that will illuminate the sculpture from within.

“In general, we try very, very hard to offer entertainment, education, and attractions for everybody in our community,” Tesconi said. “And we know how diverse the community is.”

The sculpture also melds nicely with this year’s “Peace, Love & Fair” theme, which aims to bring a touch of ’60s psychedelic style to the fairgrounds and, in particular, to the Hall of Flowers, where exhibits feature peace signs, tie-dye and purple haze.

“People are having so much fun with it,” Tesconi said.

But the fair remains largely a place of traditional scenes and smells, where folks can count on repeating experiences from years past, whether it’s cheering on a favored horse competing in Wine Country Racing or watching a youth livestock auction.

Thats not to overlook the many other offerings, including barrel racing, musical concerts, baking contests, sea lions and mariachi music.

Tesconi said a survey conducted last year indicated participants commonly go to the fair three times during its annual run, which might be the only way to pack it all in. Admissions last year totaled 325,000 visitors.

Even before the gates opened to the public, the fairgrounds was bustling with activity Wednesday, the roadways packed with parked trucks and workers scurrying here and there with boxes and handcarts.

“Controlled chaos,” is how Victor Holguin described it, as he and several co-workers from the San Bernardino area erected an attraction with “simulator chairs” that mimic the sensation of being in a cockpit or a racecar.

The sheep and goat barn provided another hub of activity, kind of like a beauty salon on prom day, as dozens of youths groomed their livestock for showing that began Wednesday afternoon.

For kids active in 4-H or Future Farmers of America, the county fair is a summer highlight, the culmination of months of labor put into the care and feeding of their animals, It’s also a round-the-clock social occasion.

“It’s when we get to see most of our fair friends that we don’t get to see the rest of the year,” said Tomales FFA member Katie Arndt, 17, who brought two Boer goats that will go to auction later this week.

The fair will run daily, except Mondays, through Aug. 10, open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day, though some exhibits close at 10 p.m. Wine Country Racing begins Friday and runs generally Wednesday to Sunday each week.

General admission is $11, with tickets for children ages 7 to 12 going for $5.

A variety of discounts are available on certain days, including Tuesday and Wednesday, when $22 covers admission and unlimited carnival rides.

More information is available at sonomacountyfair.com.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.