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Mistlin Sports Park carnival kicks off 50th annual festival
The finishing touches are put on the Ferris Wheel by Daniel Smith. - photo by HIME ROMERO

• WHAT: Almond Blossom Festival carnival
• WHERE: Mistlin Sports Park on River Road off Jack Tone Road, Ripon
• WHEN: Tonight 4:30 to 10 p.m., Friday 4 to 11 p.m., Saturday noon to 11 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
• NOTES: Tonight is $1 ride night

RIPON – When Kevin Tate and the 19 rides that comprise his California Carnival Co. rolled in the Mistlin Sports Park on Monday he was caught off guard.

In the basin beneath the massive 175-foot water tower where he traditionally sets up he didn’t find the one thing that has greeted him every year that he’s set-up shop out at the River Road location – standing water.

An unusually dry winter seemed to have spared Tate and his staff from taking the steps that have become just a standard part of setting up for the Almond Blossom festival that is now in its 50th year.

“We rolled in here and I couldn’t believe it – normally there’s three-inches of standing water for us to deal with,” Tate said with a laugh. “We’ve had to go and get a pump truck and a bunch of stray and lay it down. This is definitely nice.”

But even if the field had been flooded, don’t expect the Sacramento-based carnival operator to complain. 

For the better part of a decade, Tate has been working side-by-side with the Ripon Chamber of Commerce to execute the logistics on bringing his rides to town. With the days of cramming a dozen of them into a compact space along the Ripon Community Center behind him, the wide-open spaces of Mistlin Park has allowed him to focus less on pinpoint location and more on customer service

And he just inked a fresh five-year contract to be the exclusive ride provider to the festival – something, Tate says, that both helps his business and serves as de facto evaluation of what he has been providing to Ripon residents.

“It’s something that we can show the banks when we’re going out and buying new rides that we’re going to add, and just about all of the money that we make goes right back into this thing,” he said. “Plus it lets us know that we’re doing what we need to be doing here to keep the people of Ripon happy.

“We love coming here and we look forward to. This is one of those places where we’ve been coming for a while now and you get the chance to see the kids get bigger each year. All of our staff wear name tags and people remember you – it’s that kind of a city and we love it.”

Of the 19 rides he has on site, the massive seven-story Ferris Wheel – a Kansas-built ride that he had to go all the way to Norway two years ago to purchase – is once again the star attraction of this year’s lineup.

But it’s got a new addition that nighttime carnival goers are sure to notice.

“We just finished putting a complete LED package on that which gives a tremendous light show at night,” Tate said. “It also allows us to use a fraction of the energy that we used before. We’re eventually going to have the entire midway in LEDs so that we can leave a smaller carbon footprint in the communities that we’re visiting.

“We’re just excited to be here again and we’re looking forward to seeing the customers that come out every year. They’re the reason that we do this, and we’re happy to serve them.”

Starting at 4 p.m. tonight, the carnival will host their annual “Dollar Ride Night” – an event sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce.