City, county officials talk about the fair

by Paul Rignell

Contributing writer

The Elk River City Council and Sherburne County Board of Commissioners held a joint meeting April 9 in a conference room at Elk River City Hall, their first such gathering since August 2010.

The city and county officials caught up with one another on many issues after all that could happen over a 20-month period, including last summer’s Sherburne County Fair at Highway 10 and Joplin Street in Elk River.

City officials asked if the commissioners knew of the fair’s status for staying in Elk River indefinitely. “I am very much interested in keeping the fair in Elk River forever, never seeing it move anywhere,” said Mayor John Dietz.

Commissioners responded that attendance figures have underwhelmed in recent years for the fair, traditionally held the third weekend in July. Then again, in the years when there haven’t been severe storms that weekend (with tornadoes forcing two evacuations), the heat has reached triple-digit temperatures.

The county officials recommended the city do more to inspire the Elk River community to boost support for the fair. Commissioner Felix Schmiesing of Palmer Township said he believed the fair needed more volunteers. Commissioner Rachel Leonard of Livonia Township noted any adult (minimum age 18) can join the county’s Agricultural Society in support of the fair for annual dues of a single dollar. Those contributors have the right to help elect fair board members at the annual meeting each October.

The fair has run at its current site since the late 1950s, Fair Board Treasurer Irene Kostreba told the Star News, following a history of fair fun at other Elk River locations, she said. One previous spot overlooked the river downtown, she noted.

Fair officials say that rather than suggest Elk River could be doing more for the fair (scheduled this year for July 19–22), they would like to see interest and support grow throughout the county.

“We would like more of the entire county to be as proud of our fair as Elk River already is,” said Fair Board President Lori Sowers, a resident of Becker, “because we all are Sherburne County.”

Kostreba and Sowers agree that financial concerns as well as extreme weather have kept some families from enjoying summer activities.

“It’s getting harder and harder for those individuals to get out and do anything,” said Sowers. “As everything else got hit with the economy, so did the fair. We know that money’s tight.”

But the weather could be most important for success, according to Kostreba: “There have been years when we have great years, and there have been years when we are controlled by the weather.”

Fairgoers may park for free on the grounds before entering the fair for a small admission fee per person. Once through the gates, they may enjoy entertainment each day of the fair on a free stage. Families and all other guests can see horse shows in a horse arena. In the open class hall, they may view and admire crafts that have been entered for judging by other county residents, before they join together to complete take-home crafts of their own (with all materials provided).

For evening entertainment, live music in the Lions beer garden will feature the bands Iron Horse Friday, July 20 and Boogie Wonderland Saturday, July 21. Grandstand shows (for an extra ticket price) will feature ATV soccer July 20, a truck and tractor pull July 21 and a demolition derby July 22.

The fair’s new attractions for 2012 include a “butterfly house,” similar to an exhibit made popular at the Minnesota State Fair, that has been made possible for Sherburne County largely due to a grant from the state Federation of County Fairs.

Another grant is supporting the compilation of a Sherburne County Fair history book to be completed for sales in 2013, to mark the fair’s 125th season.

Sowers welcomes calls at 763-245-2682 from residents who would like to volunteer. Duties could involve monitoring the admission gates or parking lot traffic, among other tasks during the fair, or other jobs prior to the fair. Volunteers will meet at the fairgrounds 7 a.m. to noon today (Saturday, April 14), for the annual “Winter Storage Pull Out” and grounds clean-up.

But preparations for this year’s event really began months ago. “Some people think we get started with the fair in July, and that’s not accurate,” Sowers said. “We get started on the fair, when the last fair is done.”

For more on the fair plans and operations, visit