The Crow Wing County Fair officially opens its gates at 10 a.m. today, Aug. 1, and people will see a few changes around the fairgrounds in Brainerd.
Changes include new offerings at the fair, which should make people happy; and one change may make people sad.
The change that may make people sad is the loss of the ever-popular Mills Fleet Farm T-shirt, a tradition for many fairgoers. For years people have stood in line-a line that often went all the way down the industrial building where the Mills Fleet Farm booth is located-just to spin the wheel to receive a free T-shirt. Each year, the colors differ-from blue to orange to purple to last year's light shade of pink, the final color.
People have been seen during the fair week in the past with their new colored T-shirt and throughout the year, people are seen in the community with one of their colored Mills Fleet Farm T-shirt on.
Mills Fleet Farm was sold in March 2016 to KKR, a global investment firm. The Mills family had already ordered the 2016 T-shirts for the fair before the buyout, so last year was the final year at the county fair.
"I don't think anyone realized how much the Mills family did for us in this community," said Gary Doucette, manager of the county fair. "We had a really good run. Businesses are bought and sold everyday. People have the right to change the way they do business. It is a business and I completely understand and I am not angry about it. I am happy the Mills family was here for as long as were and did the things they did. This fair wouldn't be what it is today without them. I am eternally grateful to them."
The Brainerd Dispatch will be in the Mills Fleet Farm booth spot this year. The newspaper won't have colored T-shirts, but will have a Plinko game with which people will win a prize. It is one prize per person. The Dispatch will have representatives from each department at the fair at one point or another, as well as someone at the booth to sell subscriptions and to take story tips.
Doucette said there is a lot of new things going on at the county fair this year for people to enjoy.
There will be a new "Tech Center" in the Fran Holden Memorial Curling Arena at the fairgrounds. This center, sponsored by Consolidated Telecommunications Company in Brainerd, will have phone-charging stations, free WiFi and Xbox gaming system fun.
Doucette said the idea behind the "Tech Center" is from Corey Hins, a county fair board member. Hins' two sons-Allec, 15, and Caden, 12-said the center is geared for people of all ages. They said there will be a "Call of Duty" tournament for people to compete to win a free pair of tickets to a grandstand event. There also will be games of a lighter nature-"Mario Kart" for youths and adults to play.
"The 'Tech Center' is great and doesn't cost families a lot of money," Doucette said. "There is something for everyone at the fair. We try to mix things up every year at the fair."
Another new event is called "My American Farm," in the sheep and goats building, next to the milking parlor. This farm is an interactive station that will allow youths to watch informative videos on agriculture and play educational games, trivia and polls. The event is sponsored by American Farm Bureau.
Crow Wing County is an agricultural area, Doucette said, and the county fair's board of directors job is to educate youths and adults about agriculture, such as food safety and caring for animals.
The fair makes announcements several times a day on when they plan to milk the dairy cows so people can come and watch in the milk barn, Doucette said.
"This is such a hoot," Doucette said. "By the time we start there are around 50-75 people watching. When I am milking a cow I sometimes squirt the mom or dad and the smile on the kid's face is priceless. They are so into watching the process."
Another new thing at the fair is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday in the grandstand-a monster trucks thrill show. Doucette said the fairgrounds has hosted a monster truck show, but never at the county fair.
"We are really excited about the monster trucks," Doucette said. "They promised us a good show. When they were here before, it was a packed house and we have had a lot of requests to have them back."
The county fair changed the days around of the grandstand events, just to mix things up, Doucette said. The bull-riding used to be the last night of the fair, but now has moved to the first night of the fair.
All the grandstand events begin at 7 p.m. at the fairgrounds. Events are the "Dirt Kickin' Wicked Good" Bull Riding, today, Aug. 1; Monster Trucks and Quad Show, Wednesday; Moto Cross, Thursday; and Baja Rally Races, Friday-Saturday.
The county fair will continue to offer all its original fun activities, such as the Mutton Bustin', when children under age 7 ride a sheep until they fall off-a mini bull-riding activity so to speak. The qualifying round takes place from 3-4 p.m. today, Aug. 1, and the Top 10 go to the championships that night during the bull-riding event.
It takes a whole community to plan the county fair, Doucette said. There are several seasonal employees who work a lot of hours to make the fair fun to all. There are about 4,000-5,000 judging entries for fine arts and animals that two employees were busy Monday getting squared away.
"These kids put their heart and soul into these projects and we want to make sure everything is entered correctly and is fair," Doucette said.
Doucette has been the general manager of the fair for the past two years. He has been the president of the board of directors for three years and part of the fair board for six years.
"I'm retired and this job is a labor of love," Doucette said. "This fair means so much more to me than a job. I want to make this fair better. I've been in the dairy/agriculture industry for 38 years, so this fair is near and dear to my heart. Nothing is better than seeing the kids smile."
Organizers anticipate around 85,000 people will go through the fair this week, Doucette said. The fair continues to be a free and dry fair.
• Tuesday-Military Day: Opening ceremonies at 5:30 p.m. with parade of colors.
• Wednesday-Senior Citizens Day: Great Northern Model-T Club and Old Homestead Power Tractor Club parade, 10:30 a.m. and Outstanding Senior Citizens recognition at noon.
• Thursday-Ag Day: Century Farms and agricultural recognition, 11 a.m.
• Friday-Teen Day: 4-H livestock awards program, 6 p.m.
• Saturday-Kids Day: Home Depot workshop for kids, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dig for nickels, 10:30 a.m.; Veggie Derby, 11:30 a.m.; antique tractor parade, noon; minnow races, 1:30 p.m.
Mills Free Stage
• Tuesday: 1-3:30 p.m., The Red Letter Band; 6-10 p.m., Wayne Renn Band featuring Lyla Renn.
• Wednesday: 1- 4 p.m., Jerry's and Joyce Dance Band; 6-10 p.m., Alan Godage and Sundown
• Thursday: 1-3:30 p.m., Vern Bishop Moose River Band; 6-10 p.m., The 70s Magic Sunshine Band
• Friday: 11 a.m., pre-teen talent contest; 1 p.m., teen talent contest; 7-10 p.m., Solo.
• Saturday: 4:30-6 p.m., Ray's Promenaders; 7-10 p.m. Branch and Dean.