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State Fair gunning for 200,000 visitors

A view of the South Dakota State Fairgrounds in Huron from on top of the Ferris wheel on the midway during the fair's opening day last year. (Chris Huber/Republic)


The South Dakota State Fair opens today and continues through Monday at the fairgrounds in Huron.

Daily gate admission is $3 for children ages 6-16 and $5 for adults; weekly passes are $10 for children and $20 for adults; a daily family pass (two adults, four children) is $15; and a weekly value pass (four adults) is $60.

Gate admission is free each day after 8 p.m. and after 3 p.m. Monday.

HURON -- After years of scrutiny and uncertainty, South Dakota State Fair officials credit a hard-working staff and public support for five straight years of growth in the fair's attendance and revenue.

"People have just started to take a renewed interest in the State Fair," said Candy Hettinger, the fair's marketing and events coordinator. "I get comments from people that remember when the fair was in its prime, and they say it's coming back around."

The 2012 State Fair opens today and continues through Monday at the fairgrounds in Huron.

Since 2007, attendance at the fair has risen nearly 27 percent and has increased each year. In 2011, the fair was attended by 191,158 people. The figure was an increase of more than 13,000 from the previous year's fair and more than 40,000 from the 2007 fair.

Fairgrounds Manager Jerome Hertel said the fair's large deficits and inconsistent schedule in the years prior to 2007 caused widespread criticism of the event.

"A lot of people didn't have a lot of confidence in the State Fair," he said.

When Hertel started working with the fair in 2008, the event was receiving $768,000 in subsidies from state government. In some years prior, the fair was receiving more than $1 million in subsidies.

Today, that number has declined to $268,000, and attendance has continued to increase.

"I think a lot of sponsors stepped up and I think the public in general stepped up and started coming to the fair," he said.

Hertel hopes attendance at this year's fair will break the 200,000 mark.

"If the weather cooperates, I think we have a pretty good chance," he said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service was predicting a slight chance of rain Sunday night in Huron, but the fair's five-day run is otherwise expected to be dry with daily high temperatures ranging from 87 to 94.

Despite the fair's growth, funding to improve the fairgrounds can still be difficult to obtain, Hertel said.

"There are 90 buildings out here that need attention," he said. "It seems like we're always playing catchup to fix and repair these buildings."

Some physical improvements to the grounds are in the works, including the construction of a new campground restroom and 65 new camping pedestals. Those improvements, along with various repairs to other facilities at the fairgrounds, will not begin until after this year's fair and will most likely be completed in time for the 2013 fair.

"The problems we're experiencing now are growth problems," Hertel said.

But with drought affecting much of the state, Hertel admitted the weather has been a minor concern this year.

"If the farming economy is suffering, then there is always a chance it could affect us," he said.

Despite the hot, dry summer, Hertel said the number of entries this year in the fair's livestock competitions is similar to past years.

Hertel is proud of the work he and many others have done to revitalize the fair.

"I've got very good staff members who are very good at their jobs," he said. "I give them a lot of credit for the success the State Fair has had in the past four or five years."