State fair readies for 2nd year in Grand Island
August 9th, 2011
Omaha, NE – Itâ€™s just a couple weeks until opening day of the Nebraska State Fair. Officials are hoping some new attractions will help sustain last year’s momentum as the fair enters its second year in Grand Island.
On a hot, muggy day, crews were hard at work cleaning the sheep barn at the Nebraska State Fair. The Hall County Fair is over, and men armed with squeegees and leaf blowers were washing down the floors, getting ready for the next set of exhibitors. Nearby, a forklift driver moved artificial turf out of a building used for indoor football and soccer, making way for 4H and FFA. In an office building a couple of miles away, Fair facility director Jaime Parr talked about whatâ€™s new this year.
â€œWe have quite a few changes and improvements for the 2011 Nebraska State Fair,â€ Parr said. â€œWe have a shuttle route thatâ€™s going to be taking guests through the core of the fairgrounds. It provides better transportation for folks who might need help getting through the fairgrounds â€“ it is a large piece of property.â€
Part of whatâ€™s new this year is an entertainment area just east of the main exhibition buildings. Parr said itâ€™s intended to tie those buildings closer to where the horse shows are held, and it will include new attractions like an above-ground pool where people can get inside balls to walk on water.
Parr said, â€œItâ€™s almost like a human being in a hamster ball â€“ you know those little balls you used to trap your hamster in? Basically that, but on water.â€
Parr didnâ€™t miss a beat when asked about the religious implications.
â€œWell, you know, itâ€™s always kind of there, you know, walking on water,â€ said Parr. I donâ€™t want anybody to think theyâ€™re god-like, but maybe they can pretend for a few minutes.â€
Even without any miracles, last year, more than 309 thousand people tramped through the fair in its first year in Grand Island. It was the largest attendance in a decade, save only the previous year, the fairâ€™s last in Lincoln. Now, Parr said, officials hope to build on that record.
â€œBoth years could be considered a novelty year,â€ said Parr. â€œOne year was the last year at a hundred-year location; last year of course was the first year at whatâ€™s hopefully going to be our 100-year location.â€
That new location attracted a new crowd. While Parr said previous fairs drew over half their attendance from Lincoln and Omaha, last year, those cities accounted for only 12 percent of fair goers. By contrast, nearly 60 percent came from Grand Island and central Nebraska. Kay Grimminger of Grand Island has exhibited her work at the fair in both Lincoln and at Grand Island. Grimminger said she hopes the fair will attract more people from eastern Nebraska and other parts of the state.
â€œNebraskaâ€™s a big state,â€ said Grimminger. â€œAnd so itâ€™s nice to have it kind of in the middle of the state. I think maybe if everybody â€“ if they would come west, and the people from the west would come east, they would find itâ€™s a very nice space and a very nice site for the State Fair to be in Grand Island. And weâ€™re excited for it to be here.â€
Grimminger has teamed up with Grand Island teacher Tracy Morrow to bring quilts made by immigrant children to the fair. While sheâ€™s excited about showing those off, sheâ€™s a little more restrained about the exhibit space for her beaded collars, along with other needlework and fine.
â€œWeâ€™re under the grandstand in a non-air conditioned space with no lighting and so both needlework and fine arts are in that space,â€ said Grimminger. â€œWeâ€™re in a space that was not supposed to be used. We were supposed to be in the Exhibition Building. But I believe that the paying customers get that air conditioned space. Thereâ€™s supposed to be another building built, but I donâ€™t know when that will be.â€
Parr said the fair is still building and improving its facilities, but sheâ€™s anything but modest about whatâ€™s been accomplished so far.
â€œWeâ€™re doing awesome,â€ said Parr. â€œWeâ€™re doing so well, you know, the futureâ€™s so bright we gotta wear shades.â€