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Eager fairgoers line up before dawn for MN State Fair kickoff

"You have to get up early if you want to be the first one through the gates on opening day of the Minnesota State Fair.

Really, really early.

As usual, Minneapolis resident Brian Motiaytis was first in line for the first day. The northeast Minneapolis resident staked out his spot at 1:20 a.m. He settled in on the benches by the Snelling Avenue entry and visited with the same gate staff he's held vigil with for the past several summers.

"I'm a morning person," said Motiaytis, who estimates he spends 10 hours a day, every day, at the fair during its 12-day run. "This year I was really antsy. I needed to get here just in case somebody got in front of me."

These are the high holy days for fans of deep-fried foods on sticks. The Great Minnesota Get-Together kicked off officially at 6 a.m., when the fairground gates swung wide to admit the crowds that had been waiting before sunrise -- a group that included Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and the newly crowned State Fair dairy princess and her court.

"I couldn't sleep last night. It was like Christmas Eve," said Seth Johnson, who came in from St. Louis Park and snagged a spot near the front of the line.

Early risers find most of the rides and fairground attractions still shuttered, but they get to enjoy the advantages of ample parking, sparse crowds and pristine restrooms. Many, like Motiaytis, take advantage of the early morning peace to meet friends for coffee and breakfast.

"I just hang our. It's a nice place to be," he said. "It's a small city that becomes a large city."

Vendors lined up as well, to offer a sneak peek at the new foods on offer this year -- wine-fried kalettes, stuffed Italian meatloaf on a stick, dessert nachos, honey sticks.

Ginger Johnson of Apple Valley, who times her vacations around the fair every year. Some of her co-workers think she's crazy, she said, but here in the growing line of fair early birds, she knows better.

"I'm not crazy," she said with a laugh. "Look at all the other people who are here too."

For Johnson -- who boarded a bus at 3 a.m. to snag a spot near the front of the entry line -- staking out the first day of the fair is a beloved family tradition.

"I grew up in Wisconsin and my dad got us out of school every year to come" to the Minnesota State Fair," said Johnson, who still hasn't visited the Wisconsin State Fair. "When he passed away, I just come to do things that he would like...It feels like home."

Price doubles for all you can drink milk at State Fair

Dire news from dairy land: The price of All the Milk You Can Drink at the Minnesota State Fair just doubled.

The Midwest Dairy Association dropped the bomb: "Fair-goers seeking their fill of fresh, cold, 2 percent white or low-fat chocolate milk, will find the price is now $2 per cup," the group announced on the Minnesota State Fair site.

The milk booth has been a state fair fixture for 60 years and for the past 11 of those years, the milk has been flowing for $1 per bottomless cup.

But costs were rising, and the dairy association decided that either the price had to increase, or the endless refill policy had to go.

"We wish we could have made a smaller price increase," said Midwest Dairy Association spokeswoman Sherry Newell. But in the end, she said, nobody wanted the hassle of making change for All The Milk You Can Drink for $1.25 or $1.50. "It really was not practical for us to handle the volume of coin."

All-You-Can-Drink milk got its start at the fair in 1955, offering milk at 10 cents per glass. The milk booth and nearby dairy booth combined are the fair's second-largest vendors.

It has become one of the most popular stops at the fair, and one of the best bargains for sweaty, thirsty fairgoers -- even though the booth defines "all you can drink" as the amount of milk one person can drink while standing there at the booth, not wandering the fair throughout the entire day. The average patron downs two or three cups of milk, Newell said.

"We know that's a big [price] jump," she said. "But we also think it's still the best bargain you can get at the fair. There's nobody else that offers all-you-can-drink, or all-you-can-eat. So we think that it's something our customers will be able to understand and still value.

For those who really miss $1 milk, the stand will roll back the price on Military Appreciation Day, Tuesday, Sept. 1.