Fair is rolling up fast

Published 6:38 pm Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Just a few short weeks before the Mower County Fair, Board President Kevin Finley sits down and opens up on what makes it so special

 

It was a relatively quiet day on the grounds of the Mower County Fair Monday morning. Some work was visible here and there, but otherwise the grounds were vacant of the sites and sounds to come.

“The grounds are pretty close to ready,” Fair Board President Kevin Finley said later that morning. “We’re getting ready. We’re setting pens up for livestock, fine turning — just making sure power is working, water is running.”

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There is still just under a month’s time before the 2023 Mower County Fair officially kicks off over the stretch of Aug. 8-13, but just like any other year, Finley and the rest of the board and staff are excited.

Eventually, carnival rides and more will start arriving from other fairs including Olmsted, Freeborn and Steele counties and the activities around the barns and buildings will continue to build in preparation.

“It’s like anything. You get excited about the fair coming and the activity and the community involvement and all of that,” Finley said. “The longer you’ve been on the board, the easier it gets to be. As you pull into the grounds, you keep thinking, are we missing anything in this building? Is there anything we can tweak to make it better?”

In any given year, the Mower County Fair is one of the, if not the biggest, event for the county all year long, requiring a staggering amount of work to bring people the best six days of the year.

Part of that work relies on balance as the board works in both the new and the old. 

This year, Finley is especially excited by three of the newer events coming to the fair.

It was busy for kids day at the Mower County Fair last year. Herald file photo

One of the biggest of those additions is the Thorni Ridge Exotic Petting Zoo, which will feature 75 animals beneath a 100 by 100 foot tent and will be located near the carnival.

There will also be camel rides.

Another new addition will be a dinosaur-themed Jurassic Kingdom Lockdown, a puppet show that will bring dinosaurs to life three times a day.

In the grandstand, the fair has added autocross to the Wednesday night slot. Similar to motocross, drivers will take their cars over a course featuring jumps and ramps throughout.

All of these, Finley hopes, will augment what people have come to know and expect of the fair each year.

“That’s one of the biggest challenges of growing, changing is having something new to bring people out, but yet have the tradition,” Finley said.

That balance has played out in the music the fair has offered over the years. In years past, the fair attempted to bring musical acts to the grandstands, but constraints made future musical offerings there difficult.

“We would really like to have music at some point, but the cost of everything … we just can’t justify doing that,” Finley said, recognizing that keeping the fair free of admissions is one of the key successes of each fair.

To offset that, Finley said the board has strengthened musical performances at smaller stages, including Fair Square Stage and Purple Ribbon Plaza.

“We put a little bit more money into the Fair Square Free Stage so we have a little better entertainment there,” Finley said. “We’ve also tried to put a little bit more popular bands in the Beer Garden that people are looking for. It’s the way to grow that helps justify costs a little bit.”

At the grandstands, people can expect what they have come to enjoy in years past: Motokazie on Tuesday, NTPA Tractor Pull on Thursday, two nights of Great Frontier Bull Riding on Friday and Saturday night and the Masters of Disaster show on Sunday to round the fair out.

For many, however, the fair settles firmly on the agriculture traditions and the animal shows 4-Hers prepare for all year long.

“It’s always good,” Finley said. “The kids get ramped up. I showed out here when I was in 4-H as a kid in the 80s. A lot of us showed when we were kids,  now our kids or even grandkids are here showing. The fair, in a lot of ways, is a family reunion. People you see once a year, but you see them at the fair. You kind of connect for the whole week.”

New or old, Finley’s primary hope is that people will take a fun few days away with them when the rides are shut down, the last mini donut is sold and the final ribbon is given out.

“It’s a huge community event and it doesn’t matter if you are in Austin, Minnesota or Austin, Texas. In every state in the United States, the fair is usually the biggest community event in that county all year long.”

“You look back and you hope it’s been a success.”