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Accessible Travel Series: Dutchess County Fair

Date Published: August 11, 2023

It may sound amazing, but despite being more than 170 years old, the Dutchess County Fair is still way ahead of its time! 

Consider this: 

The Dutchess County Fair was among the first county fairs in the country to offer sensory-friendly accommodations to its guests with special needs when it hosted its inaugural “ThinkDIFFERENTLY Thursday” event in 2016. Six years later, that event is still going strong and is one of the many reasons the Fair is one of the biggest and most inclusive in America year after year. 

This year’s Fair, set for Aug. 22-27, will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck for a family-friendly celebration of all the best of what the Hudson Valley has to offer! Homegrown agriculture, carnival rides, concerts, livestock shows and competitive, historical and educational exhibits are major highlights. Foodies flock to the Dutchess County Fair for an endless supply of delicious, locally sourced food and beverage options ranging from fried funnel cake to fresh farm-to-table fare.  

Of course, everyone enjoys the Fair in their own way and at their own pace, and the bright lights, loud noises and big crowds often make it difficult for someone with sensory processing issues to relax and have fun. This year’s Fair will once again include attractions and amenities to help those of all abilities and their families make the most of their Fair experiences. 

Dutchess Couny Fair ThinkDIFFERENTLY
Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck (Photo courtesy of Dutchess County Government)

ThinkDIFFERENTLY Thursday 

The Fair will open its gates at 9 a.m. on Aug. 24 – one hour earlier than usual – for individuals with special needs and their families so they can enjoy the exhibits and attractions, including the animal barns on Livestock Hill and the Dutchess County 4-H Exhibit Hall, ahead of the crowds. Although not every attraction will be open at that time, the soft opening provides families with a chance to ease into their day at the Fair. Be sure to enter through the main gate. To see a map of the Fairgrounds, click here. 

Also on Thursday, the Powers Great American Midway will open at 9:30 a.m. and remain sensory sensitive until noon. Flashing lights and loud noises will be turned off all morning so those affected by sensory issues can enjoy the rides in a more subdued environment. The early opening means fewer people, shorter lines and less anxiety. To purchase tickets, click here.

The Dutchess County Fair was the first in New York State, and one of the first in the country, to offer a sensory-sensitive day to fairgoers.

The ThinkDIFFERENTLY initiative was started by former Dutchess County Executive and current Congressman Marc Molinaro in 2015 to change the way individuals, businesses, organizations and communities relate to individuals with special needs. For a Q and A on ThinkDIFFERENTLY Thursday with Molinaro and President and CEO of the Dutchess County Agricultural Society Andy Imperati, click here.

Related: There is Fun for Everyone at the Dutchess County Fair  

Dutchess County Fair ThinkDIFFERENTLY
Dutchess County Fair, Rhinebeck (Photo courtesy of Dutchess County Government)


Representatives from ThinkDIFFERENTLY and the Cornell Cooperative Extension's Flourishing Farmers all-inclusive/accessible 4H program, will be available to answer questions and relay information; they will be stationed in a tent next to the Dutchess County Dairy Committee milkshake booth, near the Gate 2 entrance. Stop by and say hello – and make sure to grab a milkshake!   

ThinkDIFFERENTLY will also host a Quiet Space, complete with tables and chairs, behind the ThinkDIFFERENTLY tent, to provide a calm place away from the hustle and bustle of the Fair. 

Related: Accessible Travel Series: Introducing the New Sensory Safe Suite at Dutchess Stadium 

Dutchess County Fair
Dutchess County Fair (Photo by Suzan Myrtle)

 Accessibility at the Fairgrounds 

The staff members at the Fairgrounds pride themselves on creating events that are enjoyable and accessible for everyone. The entrances and aisles at the Fair are navigable for guests in wheelchairs, as are many of the attractions. Accommodations have been made on the grounds, in buildings, in the grandstand and in restrooms to make them accessible as well. 

Accessible parking is available in the lot closest to Gate 1. Be sure to have your state-issued parking permit visible. Parking attendants will be on duty to help if needed. Trolleys will patrol the accessible parking area and will transport people with mobility impairments to the Fair entrance. 

Carts, wheelchairs, wagons and strollers will all be available to rent at the Fairgrounds. For details, click here.

See you at the Fair! 

Related: Dutchess County Welcomes Visitors of All Abilities 

Main photo courtesy of Dutchess County Government.

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