By Denise Cheeseman
Despite a midway accident that killed one and left several more injured at the Ohio State Fair last week, Iowa’s own festivities remain on track.
The Iowa State Fair will run Aug. 10-20 and is expected to draw around 1 million people hungry for eats on a stick and a glimpse of the Butter Cow.
Fair manager Gary Slater said the fair has regularly grown by approximately 100,000 people each decade since the 1980s, and attendance has hovered around the 1 million mark since 2004.
“You look at the population of Iowa, 3 million people; if we get 1 million people through the door, out of that, in 11 days, we’re pretty proud of that fact,” he said. “I don’t know if, as a population base, we could go up from that, but we try to put on as good of a fair as we can put on and appeal to as many people as we can every year.”
This year’s theme is “Nothing Compares” to State Fair Thrills.
“Nothing Compares” has been the common theme refrain since 2011.
“We had, up until that point, really been reinventing ourselves every year,” marketing director Mindy Williamson said. “The great thing about coining ‘Nothing Compares’ is that it keeps that consistency, but we can always change it to be a little more closely tied to our major project of the year. This year, it’s our thrill parks, which are Thrill Town, Thrill Ville, and Thrill Zone — three new, renovated amusement areas on the fairgrounds.”
Each midway is more intense than the last, respectively, with Thrill Town designed for families with small children and Thrill Zone filled with faster, more extreme rides, Williamson said.
Specifically, Williamson said, the Thrills theme was selected because the fair will present a new, independent midway.
“We have personally booked each individual ride, and we feel like we have selected quality companies and quality equipment to come here,” Slater said.
The fair has also hired independent ride inspectors through Wagner Consulting Associates who will work in addition to ride inspectors from the Iowa Department of Labor, he said. The consultants will “be another set of eyes of diagnostic procedures on the rides to make sure they are safe … that didn’t happen because of Ohio, that was in the works way back [in fall 2016] as we got ready for this year’s fair.”
Of course, rides are not everyone’s cup of tea. In a press release, the State Fair outlined some of the other events lined up for the 11 days, including the casting of a Spirit of Iowa bell for the Veterans Parade on Aug. 14, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating contest on Aug. 12, and a new cream butter sculpture of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
“From new amusement rides, to new food on a stick, and the celebration of the Butter Cow, the Iowa State Fair has something for everyone,” a press release from the fair’s website said.
Slater agreed, saying he did not think anyone would be deterred by the Ohio State Fair incident — after all, the State Fair is an Iowa tradition, and officials have taken the utmost precautions to ensure the safety of all attendees.
“We find that people enjoy coming back and doing the things that they did when they were kids, and they enjoy introducing their children or their grandchildren to those things,” he said.
A full schedule of fair events can be found online.