A breath of fresh air: Beer gardens, smoking rules new at Crow Wing County Fair

The fifth largest county fair in the state has some changes in store, but fairgoers can expect many of the usual favorites at this year's event.

Sharron Ryappy (left) helps her granddaughter Kallie Ryappy decorate the stall for her horse Legend in the horse barn Friday, July 26, at the Crow Wing County Fairgrounds. Legend and Kallie will be participating on their 4-H Drill team “Reigning Chaos” Tuesday and Wednesday evening at the Crow Wing County Fair. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Crow Wing County fairgoers of legal age will have to put the nicotine away, but will be able to enjoy a beer at this year’s county fair.

For the first time ever, the county fair, which opens Tuesday, July 30, at the Crow Wing County Fairgrounds in Brainerd, will be smoke free and have two contained beer gardens. However, those who smoke cigarettes or vape e-cigarettes will have two designated smoking areas.

The Crow Wing County Board of Commissioners approved the license application by the fair association May 28 to sell 3.2% beer on fairgrounds, including during the county fair. The county board in the past had rejected the fair board’s request to permit the sale of 3.2% beer on the fairgrounds during the week of the county fair.

Fairgrounds General Manager Gary Doucette said beer would be sold at two locations -- by the Mills Free Stage and by the grandstands. The 2019 Crow Wing County Fair runs as usual -- Tuesday through Saturday at the fairgrounds on Southeast 13th Street.

“We’re excited about it,” Doucette said about the beer gardens. “We want everyone to be pleased. Everyone will be carded, regardless of age. You can’t just walk out of the beer gardens with a beer in your hand.”


Doucette said the beer garden by the grandstand will have a small area with bleachers where people can sit and have a beer. The beer will not be allowed in the grandstands themselves.

“I’m hoping people will be supportive and prove to be good caretakers and be responsible,” Doucette said on people drinking responsibly.

Having a smoke-free county fair is something the fair board has discussed for a number of years. Doucette said the Minnesota State Fair is smoke free and the county always strives to follow suit with the state fair and wants to offer a healthier environment to fairgoers. Doucette said the Crow Wing Energized steering committee was instrumental in helping the fair become smoke free. Crow Wing Energized is a group aimed to enhance health and wellness with the purpose to establish and grow community support for policy, systems and environmental change work in obesity prevention and tobacco use and control.

“I used to be a smoker,” Doucette said, so he understands the addiction and wanting a place to smoke. That’s why there will be two designated areas for smoking tobacco products, such as cigarettes as well as electronic cigarettes. The designated spots will be near the grandstands and the administration building by the restrooms.

There will be no smoking signs posted around the fairgrounds to remind people to not smoke openly around the property.

Inside the fair gates

The Crow Wing County Fair is considered to be the fifth largest county fair in Minnesota. Doucette estimates 80,000 people come through the gates from all over the lakes area and beyond, including from the East Coast and other states.

The county fair will continue to offer all its traditional activities and will continue to be a free fair. Activities, such as Mutton Bustin’, will return. This event allows children under age 7 to ride a sheep until they fall off. The qualifying round takes place 1 p.m. Tuesday, and the Top 10 go to the championships that night during the bull riding event.

All the grandstand events begin at 7 p.m. at the fairgrounds. Events are the “Dirt Kickin’ Wicked Good” Bull Riding, Tuesday; Modified Truck and Tractor Pull, Wednesday; Motocross, Thursday; and Baja Rally Races, Friday-Saturday, Aug. 2-3. Also in the grandstands is the tractor driving contest at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 3. There is an admission fee to get into the grandstand events.


Free entertainment will once again hit the Mills Free Stage daily with a variety of music. Many food and beverage vendors will offer county fair favorites, such as cheese curds, corn dogs, mini doughnuts, milkshakes and cotton candy. Several nonprofit groups also return, including the Brainerd Elks Lodge offering a menu of items served by Brainerd High School choir students; the Brainerd Fire Department with brats; and monster ears served by the Crow Wing Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol.

Families will be able to take their children and grandchildren through the buildings to see animals such as horses, rabbits, poultry, cattle, sheep, swine and goats. Shows are scheduled daily as 4-Hers show their animals.

The buildings also will be full of exhibits for people to view, such as fruits and vegetables, plants, arts and crafts, canning items and quilts.

Todd Armstrong will be back with his carnival shows at the Midway. Rides include Tilt-A-Whirl, Carousel, the Super Shot and Himalaya.

White Tiger Discovery, an education and outreach exhibit, is back at the fair. The exhibit features hands-on, interactive programs with a goal to promote and excite people on conservation issues involving the last five remaining species of the tigers in the wild.

According to White Tiger Discovery, as outlined in the county fair handbook, the royal white tiger has been extinct from the wild since 1958, but in 2010, India started a program to reintroduce the tigers back into the wild. The first white tiger that came to the United States was in 1960, and was presented to President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the White House and then went to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo as a gift from India.

The Cock-A-Doodle Zoo, which will have roughly 30 different species of animals, is also back at the fairgrounds. This zoo’s mission is teaching the public about planetary sustainability and conservation with the use of “very unique” animal encounters.

A small change this year is the location of where daily bingo is played. Bingo was moved to the upstairs of the Curling Building, so it will be more comfortable for the people playing bingo and not as hot when it was in a tin building.


Fairgoers walking around the grounds will also learn about new things going on in the community, such as a new initiative called Brainerd Lakes Area Drug Education, or BLADE for short. Representatives for BLADE will be at the fair daily and located in the middle of the fairgrounds near the administration building.

A new group -- Brainerd Lakes Area Drug Education, or BLADE -- will have a presence at the Crow Wing County Fair.

Lt. Andy Galles of the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office said BLADE is represented by a group of people from the sheriff’s office, county attorney’s office, community services office, the faith community and recovery addiction organizations. BLADE’s vision is to provide “a new path” in reducing drug addition, increasing drug enforcement, providing drug education and working with those impacted to find a healthier and productive future, which in return will create a more safe and promising future for the community.

The group will be at the fair to talk to people about what BLADE is, while giving away T-shirts and bracelets.

Galles said law enforcement officials have to change the way they address the drug problem in the county. Drugs are a large part of why people are in jail. Out-of-home placements are high in the county, which are also related to the drug problem.

One of BLADE’s goals is starting a drug prevention/education curriculum in the elementary schools in Crow Wing County. Currently students learn about drug education in the eighth grade and Galles said this needs to start earlier because “kids are way smarter” and technology has advanced.

“We want to reach the kids before they get sucked into that world and it starts here,” Galles said. “The earlier we reach the kids the higher the success rate we will have in the long term.”


Another initiative intended to improve health and well-being is Crow Wing Energized's One Vegetable One Community program, which will host the Great Vegetable Debate, set 4-4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Mills Free Stage . A live debate will pit participants dressed as vegetables against one another as they campaign for which veggie is the best -- peppers, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes or green beans.

Those campaigning include Nisswa Principal Molly Raske, YMCA CEO Shane Riffle, Essentia Health community health specialist Kalsey Stults, United Way of Crow Wing and Southern Cass Counties Executive Director Kim Rollins and Mara (Larson) Pointer. Dan Hegstad of Lakeland Public Television will moderate the debate.

Mills Free Stage schedule

  • Tuesday/Military Day: 1-3:30 p.m., Norm’s Bait & Tackle; 5:30 p.m., Opening Ceremonies, Parade of Colors; 6-10 p.m., Slamabama.

  • Wednesday/Senior Citizens Day: 10:30 a.m., Great Northern Model T Club and the Old Homestead Power Tractor Club parade; noon, Senior Day recognition; 1-4:30 p.m., Vern Bishop & Moose River Band; 6-10 p.m. Alan Godage Band.

  • Thursday/Ag Day: 1-3:30 p.m. Copperhead Creek; 4:30 p.m. Kids Pedal Pull; 6-10 p.m. Shane Martin.

  • Friday/Teen Day: 11 a.m., pre-teen talent contest; 1 p.m. teen talent contest; 3 p.m. open class talent contest; 7-10 p.m. Midwest Mayhem.

  • Saturday/Kids Day: Noon, antique tractor parade; 2 p.m. Miss Brainerd Lakes Princess; 3-4 p.m., 4-H Dog exhibition; 4:30-6 p.m., Ray’s Promenaders; 7-10 p.m. Arena.

Grandstand events

Except when noted, all begin 7 p.m.

  • Tuesday: “Dirt Kickin’ Wicked Good” Bull Riding.

  • Wednesday: Modified Truck and Tractor Pull.

  • Thursday: Motocross.

  • Friday-Saturday: Baja Races.

  • 10 a.m. Saturday: Tractor Driving contest.

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