Thousands of visitors flocked to opening day of the Utah State Fair Thursday - most seeming to enjoy the sights and sounds of the annual exhibition.

"I can't knock this. I come to the fair most every year, but everything has been upgraded and is clean. It's a lot better environment than we used to have," said Lawrence Matthews, a retired Grantsville, Tooele County, resident.Matthews, who with his wife, Lorraine, attended opening ceremonies at the bandstand, now located on the west end of the fairgrounds near the Jordan River Parkway, said he was particularly impressed that the carnival has been moved to the center of the fairway.

He said he believes that most people would agree that that's a cleaner and safer area for people, particularly those who bring their children or grandchildren to the fair.

New lighting, formerly located on Utah freeways, now brightens that and many other areas of the fairgrounds.

Matthews said Fair Director Jackie Nokes has "jazzed up things considerably. What I'm wondering is where she got all the money to do this?"

Gov. Norm Bangerter, who along with Utah first lady Colleen Bangerter attended the opening, told a crowd that Nokes, chairman Douglas G. Bischoff and other members of the State Fair Board deserve a lot of credit for the improvements.

"She's (Nokes) brought more life into the fair in the last year and a half since she took over this job and cleaned this place up and made it sparkle and shine . . . . She has influence in the political circle. She got $3 million out of the Legislature to start a remodeling program, and she's doing an absolutely fantastic job," Bangerter said.

When Nokes greeted the crowd she asked if the fair should be moved to the Salt Palace.

"No," the crowd responded emphatically.

"How many of you would like to stay right where we are?" Nokes asked.

"Yeah," many in the audience replied. Strong applause followed.

"OK, you told it to the man (Bangerter) who counts, ladies and gentlemen. All I can say is enjoy. We've got the most beautiful rides in the world. They are right in the center of the fairway. Get on that big Ferris wheel . . . It's 100-feet tall. It is exciting. See it all. Sample it all. See the pigs and the goats and the lambs," the fair director advised.

Following the program, during which singer-actress Shirley Jones sang the national anthem to accompaniment of the Taylorsville High School Marching Band, sky divers, with an American flag trailing behind one, dropped out of the sky.

Before and after the opening ceremonies, visitors saw livestock, photography, crafts, home arts and many other types of displays.

Among out-of-state visitors were Dan and Pat Watson, Fort Bridger, Wyo., whose two sons recently visited or participated in the Wyoming State Fair at Douglas.

The Watsons, who raise sheep and who have attended about six of the last seven or eight Utah State Fairs, said they enjoy the livestock exhibits and commercial exhibits."We hit the livestock exhibits first and then the commercial exhibits. There's always a lot of new innovative ideas," Watson said. His wife said she also enjoys the flowers and clean surroundings of the fair.

"It's getting better every year," Watson said.

Jennifer Sanders, 22, a Salt Lake Community College student and daughter of John M. and Margaret Sanders of Salt Lake City, Thursday was crowned Miss Utah State Fair.

Patrice Prince, 19, Heber City, is first attendant; Shannon Sutorius, 17, Levan, Juab County, second attendant; and Tanji Mia Thurgood, 19, Syracuse, third attendant.

Other award winners in the queen competition were: Sherri Seaman, Kaysville, and Jill Goodspeed, Roosevelt, talent award; Christine Holman, Manti, personality award; Jeanette Jones, Morgan, friendship award; Connie Barton, Tropic, Garfield County, volunteer service award; Nikole Barrus, Deweyville, Box Elder County, John Adkins Memorial Scholarship; and Kristi Palmer, Richfield, special talent recognition.