TYLER (KYTX) - The 98th Annual East Texas State Fair kicks off today. Organizers say this year is going to be bigger and better than ever before.
The fair has been a rich tradition in East Texas for nearly 100 years. Just ask the vendors selling pies from Trinity Lutheran Church.
"How long we been here? Over 40 years. Over 40 years, yeah."
Vendor Lawrence Mendez says a lot of planning goes into setting up a booth year after year.
"You don't have enough time for me to tell you. A lot of work, a lot of work."
East Texas State Fair President John Sykes says he's prepared for upwards of 240,000 people this year.
"We have an expanded lineup of food this year, including Greek food- gyros. We have Cajun food."
There's also new rides and attractions this year.
"But, one of the key factors that we have to do in planning is safety and security."
Tyler Police are patrolling the perimeter and Smith County Sheriff's deputies are handling the inside of the fair.
"If you do get separated, you can find any officer and there is a PA system." says Sheriff's Office spokesman John Moore. "There's also radio communication, so we can get you back together, but the important thing is to do it as soon as you feel like you are separated or lost. And, don't wait."
Moore says keeping an eye on the people in your group and keeping in constant communication are key components to crowd safety.
"It's not like it was when a lot of us were growing up. There's people out there that aren't nice people. So, you want to make sure that your child is old enough to be out at the fair by themselves. It's best to be with a parent."
And, as far as ride safety...
"We inspect, we inspect, we inspect." says Sykes.
He says all workers are background checked and drug tested. And, if they fail, they're not here.
"We welcome the families. And, that's been our goal for a long time was to make sure that a family feels safe and has a really wonderful time in a safe environment."
There's also EMTs on bikes and medical carts and ambulances here in case someone gets sick, hurt, or needs any kind of medical attention.
Law enforcement is going to be checking backpacks and bags, too. Fair president John Sykes says you need to leave all your weapons at home. If you're caught with them, you'll be turned away.
Sykes says the biggest fair crowd on record is 286,000 people.
It's a money driver to the area with an economic impact of about $7.2 million.