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Division I Class 3 Hereford Steer competitors, including (from right) Madeline Huwaldt of Osmond, Paul Vandewalle of Cedar Rapids and Owen Stall Baumer of Oconto, show their animals Sept. 2, 2014, during the Market Beef Show in the Five Points Bank Arena at the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island. (Independent/Barrett Stinson)

With six weeks to go until the Nebraska State Fair, Aug. 28-Sept. 7, more activities and events are being added, but under the watch of financial constraints and the COVID-19 health restrictions.

The Nebraska State Fair Board met Friday at the Nebraska Building at Fonner Park. It was the first in-person board meeting in months. Many members attended, though some stayed home and participated via Zoom.

Earlier this month, the board voted to hold a modified State Fair, focusing on 4-H and FFA events on both weekends. Traditionally, the fair’s budget is $7 million. Because of the pandemic’s effect, this year’s budget was trimmed to $207,000.

At Friday’s meeting, State Fair Executive Director Bill Ogg said the board’s decision to hold the fair this year was a “significant commitment.”

Since the board made the decision to commit its resources to the youth shows, Ogg said, he and his staff have been busy working with 4-H and FFA officials, along with adding events within budget and COVID-19 health constraints.

More livestock events are being planned on weekdays.

Planning the experience

Beth Smith, board chairwoman, said State Fair officials have been working with state and local health officials, along with the city of Grand Island, in planning fair activities. The meetings will continue during the fair.

“Other activities are being considered, certainly, and vetted as conscientiously as can be done,” Ogg said.

“Board members, and ladies and gentlemen, it is not going to be a Nebraska State Fair that we know, love and want to happen. And, as disappointing as that is, what we are going to have is going to be really cool.”

Jaime Parr, State Fair facilities manager, said they have heard from about half of their commercial and concessionaire vendors. Most are asking for refunds or to roll over their payments for the 2021 fair.

“But for those who have still chosen to participate with us, we are going to create a shopping area as well as an outdoor concession experience,” Parr said. “We will not have the 64 commercial food stands that we normally have, but we will have a number of them. We will have a good offering and variety of traditional fair foods.”

Parr said Raising Nebraska, the year-round agricultural venue at the Nebraska Building, will be open throughout the fair. She said Nebraska Game and Parks will have a “limited experience” at its venue, also in the Nebraska Building.

“They will have some information and some activity on the weekends,” she said.

Also, Parr said, a number of the taverns on the fairgrounds will be open this year.

“We are also looking at a number of things,” she said.

Laura Hurley, sponsorship and hospitality director, said she has received $671,000 in sponsorships, with $95,000 of that to be rolled over to next year’s fair. She said 12 sponsors have not decided which direction to go.

“To their defense, it is a tough decision to make when you can’t make payroll,” Hurley said. “On the most part, they have been very gracious and generous and we are going to make sure that these kids get the same advantages of premium awards and scholarships that they normally get every year.”

Livestock shows scheduled

Greg Harder, Aksarben Stock Show director, who also oversees the livestock shows at the Nebraska State Fair, said four equine events have been scheduled at the Thompson Outdoor Arena. During opening weekend, a quarter horse show and team penning competition are planned. On the second weekend of the fair, a mounted horse shooting competition and a cutting horse event have been scheduled.

Harder said a boer goat competition is scheduled for the first Monday and Tuesday. There also will be an open class beef show, junior feeder heifer show and a jackpot feeder calf and feeder heifer show during the weekdays of the fair.

“There will also be an open class hog show that will come in on the front side of the FFA weekend,” Harder said. “That is a nice benefit for the FFA youths who comes to the grounds as it will give them an opportunity to show their hogs twice and for the 4-H kids to come back and show a second time.”

He said he is excited to be able to plan additional livestock shows for the State Fair.

“It is a very positive move,” Harder said.

While he is working to bring additional livestock shows to the fair, Ogg said, those shows will depend on the number of participants and health requirements.

‘It will be safe’

He said that, while the fair has been reduced in size and scope, there will be quality entertainment for fairgoers. The fair’s concerts have been canceled, but entertainers from throughout the state will perform at the various stages on the grounds.

“While we have people who are hungry to exhibit their livestock, we have talent out there that are hungry to play for an audience,” Ogg said.

Also, admission to the Nebraska State Fair is free during its entire run this year.

Ogg said they will be monitoring the crowds and security will be provided by the Grand Island Police Department, Hall County Sheriff’s Department and the Nebraska State Patrol.

“The fair will be open,” he said. “It will be monitored and it will be safe.”

The board also voted to proceed with a tractor pull competition, but it will be dependent on health requirements and costs to the State Fair.

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