Clay County Fair opens Saturday
By KAREN SCHWALLER
SPENCER – Even though the Clay County Fair is approaching its centennial mark, the word “new” is the catch phrase officials used in planning this year’s nine-day run from Saturday to Sept. 16.
Fairgoers will “Discover the Greatest!” as they soak in a renewed vision of guest services, see the latest in terms of technology, learn more about agriculture with expanded learning center exhibits, enjoy a long list of free animal and local entertainment shows, and have a chance to contribute to fairground improvements for “the big one” in 2017 – the fair’s 100th anniversary.
“The ‘World’s Greatest County Fair’ is the best kept secret,” said Jeremy Parsons, the new fair manager. “With 300,000 people attending annually and more than $100,000 worth of free entertainment that we offer, it’s the third largest single event in Iowa, following the Iowa State Fair and the Des Moines Art Festival.
“It has the largest farm machinery display of any fair in the United States, and features exhibitors from 40 Iowa counties along with counties in southwest Minnesota.”
Parsons said the fair will feature 518 vendors – 200 less than there could have been if space was available – in the 120 acres that comprise the fairgrounds, not including parking.
This year fairgoers will see large ‘You Are Here’ signs posted around the fairgrounds, helping them get to where they want to go quicker. The new Innovation Pavilion in the southwest area of the fairgrounds will offer a place to showcase the “latest, greatest and newest” in various kinds of technology, with 18 vendors taking part. Those vendors will be displaying products they’re wanting to sell to companies, or products for which people are trying to get patents.
“It will be filled with things we’ve never seen before, with local entrepreneurs, the latest in business technology and agricultural innovations,” Parsons said, adding that the first television set was modeled at the Clay County Fair back in the day.
“Iowa Wind Energy Day,” set for Sunday, will showcase Iowa’s national leading presence in the wind energy market. Fairgoers can see a wind turbine up close and view the data pulled from that turbine via computer.
“Iowa is the number two state in the nation in terms of wind power production,” Parsons said.
“Iowa Corn Day” will be held on Wednesday. The Iowa Corn Growers Association will feature an ethanol-powered car and will have a biofuels trailer on site explaining how corn is processed into ethanol. There will be other activities, presentations and special exhibits showcasing Iowa corn, as well.
“4-H Family Day” will be Sept. 14 and will feature 4-H demonstrations every half hour at the KICD Courtyard.
There will be many opportunities for fairgoers to learn about agriculture as they view acres of farm machinery, from vintage machines to the newest and biggest in technology. The Ag Learning Center is located in the old Stub’s Ranch Kitchen stable, and will feature agricultural specialists from Iowa State University daily to answer questions about agriculture and give grain and livestock producers a chance to visit with specialists.
“The Clay County Fair features about 900 third- and fourth-graders who come from a 90-mile radius each year to see our Ag-Citing program,” Parsons said, adding that it gives children and adults a closer-up look at agriculture, local foods, learning where their food comes from.
“They will also talk about organic food production this year as well.
Grandpa’s Barn is an interactive learning experience where children and adults can see baby farm animals up close. The two fair weekends will feature shows at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., where visitors can learn about farm animals.
The livestock pavilion, Parsons said, will be full on the last weekend of the fair, featuring swine, sheep, llamas, goats and miniature horses.
“We are seeing a 10 percent increase in exhibitors at the fair,” Parsons said. “Our barns will be full the entire fair, and we’re proud of the fact that people are coming here to show the best of the livestock around. We have great facilities for them to show their exhibits.”
Some of the new competitive events this year include a gladiola and gourd show on Sept. 8 and 9; raspberry pie contest in the Creative Living Center on Sept. 14.
The Draft Horse Show on the last weekend of the fair,” parsosns said, “feature 10 six-horse hitches. It’s a very popular show – always a crowd-pleaser.”
Among the new opportunities at the fair this year is the “Charitable Trust,” allowing fairgoers a chance to contribute financially to improvements on the fairgrounds through purchases they can make of CCF memorabilia and souvenirs. Parsons said that with the fair’s centennial looming in 2017, organizers want the fairgrounds looking as sharp as possible (especially) that year, and that fundraising needs to begin early.
“Our goal is to raise money to restore and renovate the fairgrounds,” he said, adding that there are some buildings that need some work. “The grandstand was built in 1931 and needs some improvements, and the commercial building was built in 1954 and has an old wooden roof, and something needs to be done with that.”
He added that the historic main gate of the CCF is the only original structure left on the fairgrounds from the first fair. The second oldest building on the grounds is the Ag Building, built in 1922. All facilities, he said, will be examined to see if they need improvements for their centennial year, with monies coming (in part) from this “Charitable Trust.”
The outdoor arena bleachers have already been updated.
New this year is a fair food link on the fair’s website (www.claycountyfair.com), with 18 pages of food that can be found at the fair. A couple of examples include Mediterranean weatballs and Cajun on a stick.
There will be animal shows featuring those from Australia, as well as tropical birds; and a photography center featuring an estimated 3,000 exhibits from local and area amateur photographers.
With several tents filled with free entertainment, antique displays throughout the fairgrounds, an Arts Barn, chainsaw artist, classic car display, the famous Smoky Mountain Railroad (the largest scale-model railroad set in the nation), an environmental education center, vintage tractor displays, flower shows, 4-H exhibits and shows, textile and craft exhibits, grandstand shows featuring stock car races and the “World of Outlaws,” along with other grandstand big-name entertainment such as LeAnn Rimes, the Oak Ridge Boys, Jeff Foxworthy, Rick Springfield and Casting Crowns , this year’s fair promises to be exciting for all visitors.
“This year’s theme of ‘Discover the Greatest!’ is a call back to who we are as the world’s greatest county fair,” Parsons said, adding that it takes about 500 (seasonal) employees to make the fair happen each year. “We’re excited to put out the 2012 Clay County Fair, and we’re proud to be the world’s greatest county fair. We want to put on a fair that is worthy of (that) status.”
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