Often described as “mini state fairs,” county fairs across Minnesota draw thousands of people every year, as they have for decades.
Although smaller in scale than the Great Minnesota Get-Together, the numerous county fairs are jam-packed with grandstand events, concerts, livestock, exhibits, carnivals, food, all kinds of contests and more. The fairs, many dating back more than a century, feature a blend of old and new activities, and while trying to appeal to a younger crowd, they’re also paying homage to their history.
Here are several county fairs coming up this month and next in the west and north metro.
wright county fair july 30-aug. 3
Troy Beise remembers sweeping out the barns at the Wright County Fair as a child. Today, he belongs to the fair’s board, helping to plan the festivities.
His uncle Dennis Beise, who has worked for the fair for more than 40 years, “taught me to think beyond and stay progressive,” he said.
More than 76,000 people attended the fair last year, and it has grown steadily through the years. “We feel we’re on the right track,” with activities that cater to many different interests and all ages, Troy Beise said.
This year is the 144th for the fair. The Wright County Historical Society is helping to put together a display titled “Memories of the Fair.” One piece of history that stands out to Beise is that the fairgrounds were used as a POW camp during World War II. “There’s history in everything you look at, at the fair,” he said.
In addition to its past, Beise also touts the fair’s present. He notes, for example, the number and types of animals at the fair, both for competition and display. The swine barn has up to 90 pigs alone, he said, and there are also plenty of horses and cattle. A new attraction this year is to guess the weight of a potbellied pig named Little Laura, he added.
The Twin Cities Fantasy Factory Mega Jump Traveling BMX Stunt Show is returning for the second year, something that Beise pushed for, he said. In conjunction with that, Allina Health will give away 400 bike helmets to children at the fair. Allina is also working with the fair to bring a mobile eye unit to the grounds, which will offer free eye exams to people, Beise said.
Other attractions include a demolition derby, a talent show, live music, mud races, petting zoo, logrolling and tractor and truck pulls — a county fair classic that inspires friendly competition. They’re “a way for someone to show their machine against another,” Beise said, adding, “Everybody brings their best and gets judged, in this case, by distance.”
All in all, “I can’t think of a better way for the community to get together, bring their families and have a full day of everything around the county,” he said.
When: Wednesday-Sunday July 30-Aug. 3; Wednesday 10 a.m.-midnight, Thursday-Saturday 8 a.m.-midnight, Sunday 8 a.m.-10 p.m.
Where: 1010 1st St., Howard Lake.
Cost: Adults $5; students 13-17 $2; 12 and under free; season pass $15 (parking $3 or season pass $10 and combination admission/parking pass is $20).
For more information: Call 763-972-2880 before the fair and 320-543-2111 the week of the fair or for tickets call 320-543-3119 or check out www.wrightcountyfair.org/.
carver county fair aug. 6-10
The 103-year-old Carver County Fair bills itself as “not just your mama’s fair.”
General manager Michael Jensen said the event is working to “show young people that the fair can be edgy and fun for them, too.”
That can be seen in the lineup, which includes everything from the traditional tractor pull, a competition in which people see just how much weight their tractors can take, to Motokazie Supercross. For that event, “Local riders are invited to bring their motorcycle or quad and try their skill against regional riders,” fair materials state.
As at other county fairs, the demolition derby is popular. Jensen expects the Mega Jump Show, which features stunts from BMX riders, to do well, too. Attendees can also take in a pig race, a Rock Paper Scissors competition involving a $500 cash prize, live bands at the beer garden or “entertainment center,” the “exotic zoo” and an abundance of exhibits that speak to “why fairs are formed — for people to bring in and compare what they’ve produced. That’s how fairs started,” Jensen said.
The fair also has a couple of educational events, like the raptor program and the “Thank a Farmer Magic Show.” The farmer-themed magic show demonstrates how “things we see every day are connected to agriculture and farmers,” he said.
Jensen, a school counselor who grew up on a farm, said some people come just for the food, or “to walk around, eat and connect socially.”
Growing up, Jensen was in 4-H, and his dad and grandfather also helped organize county fairs. “Having the family heritage is cool,” he said. “That’s one thing that drew me back to it, my background, the familiarity with it.” It’s a tradition that continues with his children. “My kids love the fair. They love that dad works at the fair,” he said.
More broadly, the fair is “something that adds value to our community.”
When: Wednesday-Sunday Aug. 6-10; Wednesday-Saturday 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
Where: 501 W. 3rd St., Waconia.
Cost: Age 7 to adult $7; 6 and under free (see website for family pack, season passes and special discounts).
For more information: Call 952-442-2333 or check out www.carvercountyfair.com/index.php.
sherburne county fair thursday-sunday, july 17-20
Last summer, the Sherburne County Fair celebrated its 125-year anniversary, putting out a book documenting the fair’s history.
To build on that, the fair this year is organizing a history center. It will be filled with fair-related memorabilia, including newspaper clippings, photos, ledgers, posters and other ephemera, along with relics such as an antique wheel cover, said fair director Tina Iten. Right now, the fair is still looking for artifacts to be donated to the exhibit, at least temporarily, she said.
The exhibit underscores the importance of the fair, which has remained a constant. “A lot of people come out and make it a family tradition. Some have been doing it for generations,” Iten said.
Among the highlights: the demolition derby, tractor and truck pulls, a medallion hunt, a parade, bingo, talent contest, live music, a dance for people with special needs, carnival and food.
Organizers also got creative with several new activities this year. AWF Wrestling will take place at the fair for the first time. Also, through something the fair has dubbed “Smash and Crash,” anyone who dreams of driving a demolition car will have a chance to compete for the opportunity, she said. That contest comes with a $500 cash prize.
Through a “selfie scavenger hunt,” smartphone users can post photos of various objects and themselves to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. The “hashtag” that will be used to label the images is #SherbCtFair. People will be hunting for 15 objects each day. Besides the scavenger finds, prizes will be given for especially creative selfies. The event’s grand prize is an Xbox One video game console and a 43-inch flat-screen TV.
Iten hopes the “selfie scavenger hunt” helps get more young people involved in the fair. “The area that we have always been missing the most is our young adults,” she said. “What teen wouldn’t want to try to win a gaming system by just posting pictures?”
When: Thursday-Saturday 7 a.m.-midnight, Sunday 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
Where: 13372 Business Center Dr., Elk River.
Admission: Age 6 and up $3; 5 and under free; military free (with proper ID).
For more information: Call 763-441-3610 or check out www.sherburnecountyfair.org/.
anoka county fair july 22-27
At many county fairs, agriculture is “a dying thing,” but not at the Anoka County Fair, where it’s still a central theme, says Mike Ahlers, the fair’s president.
For starters, the fair has one of the largest dairy shows around. In fact, the fair built a new dairy barn last year. A quirky, fun attraction there is a mechanical cow named Dani. The life-size fiberglass animal, which can be found right alongside the live ones, is an educational tool. Children can “milk” the cow that also talks back to them, Ahlers said.
Likewise, the fair features nearly 90 horses. It’s a thriving part of the event.
Other highlights include a 20-minute fireworks display, a variety of live music acts including Sherwin Linton (Johnny Cash tribute), and a demolition derby. The derby has such a dedicated crowd that “we probably couldn’t do without it,” Ahlers said. It’s the same thing with the bull rides. Sheep rides, a Big Wheel contest, a petting zoo and a puppet show also cater to the youngest fairgoers.
Although the organizers try to mix up the offerings from year to year, Ahlers finds that people tend to gravitate to their favorites. “It’s funny what you find out once you start surveying people,” he said. “It depends on the person, what they get out of the whole experience.” In general, “We try to put a spin on it for everybody,” and to keep it affordable, he added.
This year, the fair has a new pavilion where people can sit down and eat or just relax. In the past, the fair had rented a tent, so it made sense to build a permanent structure, he said. “We’re continually improving, trying to keep the appearance looking new and refreshed,” Ahlers said.
When: Tuesday-Sunday July 22-27; buildings open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Where: 3200 St. Francis Blvd., Anoka.
Cost: Age 13 and older $9; 7-12 years old $4; 6 and under free (see website for further discounts)
For more information, call 763-427-4070 or check out www.anokacountyfair.com/.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.