Cotton Park on the fairgrounds is a special place for many visitors who consider it a destination and a pleasant escape from the hustle and bustle of the N.C. State Fair. The miniature park, with its brick walkways and landscaped setting, is between Dorton Arena and the Education Building on the southeast side of the fairgrounds. It’s also home to Casey’s Clubhouse, bordering Kiddieland near Gate 1.
“To me, it’s a little out of the way and quieter, and you can find a place to sit down,” said Cathy Water of Raleigh.
Water’s husband Ken grew up in a neighborhood beside the fairgrounds, so he’s been familiar with the grounds since childhood. He remembers the years when the Pork Chop Shop had a space in the edge of the park on the Dorton Arena side. For 2023, a little extra space was cleared out, and four food vendors are on that end of the park.
Those four vendors are Lawrence & Perry BBQ, the Peach Cobbler Factory, Kono Pizza and Magdalena’s Chimney Cakes. They’re all on the end of the park toward Dorton Arena, across from the Field of Dreams.
“I think it’s really cool. I would come over here because I don’t like to be crowded and wait in long lines, said Vivian Robinson who is behind the Magdalena’s booth that sells the traditional Hungarian dessert. “I like being here because it’s nice and quiet. It’s great for families because I think it would be really hard pushing a stroller or something or having your kids all in disarray running around [in the main part of the fair]. This is really pretty. It’s peaceful, like a park instead of like a fair.”
Ken Water also noticed a few other changes for 2023. A couple of vendors that normally face Dorton, such as the Giant Gummy Bear booth, were turned to open the pathway into the park from Gate 1 and the area of the SkyGazer. The Fire Safety Show also moved to a different side.
State Fair workers also hung string lights over a walkway, added a few season flowers and generally spruced up the area in time for the 2023 fair. A tree or two that were in poor health and enclosed and darkened the park were also removed, making the park a bit more airy.
Additional signage also marks the area as the “Coastal Credit Union Family Fun Zone at Cotton Park.” Whether visiting Casey’s Clubhouse, enjoying some food, or just taking a seat for a little respite, fairgoers are encouraged to enjoy the area and make it part of their fair experience.
While in the park, fairgoers may notice an array of interesting and unusual plants. The park is named after a longtime landscaper of the grounds whose last name was Cotton. He’s responsible for planting many of the trees, bushes, flowers and other plants. You’ll find a hodgepodge of plants from camellia bushes and maple trees to unusual trees and even a unique pomegranate bush with unusually deep burgundy fruits. The park was a bit of a pet project for Cotton that’s now been revived with renewed connections to the rest of the fair.