With just over three weeks to go before the 2011 Nebraska State Fair opens, 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 recent hot, muggy day, a crew was hard at work cleaning the Sheep Barn at the Fair. With the ending of the Hall County Fair, which uses the same space, men armed with squeegees and leaf blowers were washing down the floors, getting ready for the next set of exhibitors.
Nearby, a forklift driver was moving artificial turf out of a building used for indoor football and soccer, making way for 4H and FFA. And in an office building a couple of miles away, Fair facility director Jaime Parr waded into a question about what's new this year.
"We have quite a few changes and improvements for the 2011 Nebraska State Fair," Parr said. "We have a shuttle route that'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 - it is a large piece of property."
Part of what's new this year is an entertainment area just east of the main exhibition buildings. Parr said it'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.
"It's almost like a human being in a hamster ball," she explained. "You know those little balls you used to trap your hamster in? Basically that, but on water."
Jaime Parr - facility manager
Parr didn't hesitate when asked about the religious implications: "It's always kind of there, you know: walking on water. I don't want anybody to think they're God-like, but maybe they can pretend for a few minutes," she said with a laugh.
Even without any miracles, last year, more than 309,000 people tramped through the fair in its first year in Grand Island. It was the largest attendance in a decade, save the previous year's, the Fair's last in Lincoln. Now, Parr says, officials hope to build on that record.
"Both years could be considered a novelty year," she noted. "One year was the last year at a hundred-year location; last year of course was the first year at what's hopefully going to be our 100-year location."
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 fairgoers. By contrast, nearly 60 percent came from Grand Island and central Nebraska.
"Nebraska's a big state. And so it's nice to have it kind of in the middle of the state," Grimminger said. She added that if people from eastern and western Nebraska would come, "they would find it's a very nice space, and a very nice site for the State Fair to be in Grand Island. And we're excited for it to be here."
Grimminger has teamed up with Grand Island teacher Tracy Morrow to bring quilts made by immigrant children to the fair. And while she's excited about showing those off, she's a little more restrained about the exhibit space for her beaded collars, along with other needlework and fine arts.
"We're under the grandstand in a non-air conditioned space with no lighting," she said. "We'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. There's supposed to be another building built. But I don't know when that will be."
Parr said the fair is still building and improving its facilities. But she's anything but modest about what's been accomplished so far.
"We're doing awesome," she declared. "The future's so bright, we gotta wear shades."
If you go, you might want to wear some sunscreen, too. The Fair runs from Aug. 26 through Sept. 5 in Grand Island.