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Fair turns to community for housing

As the number of attendees increases at the South Dakota State Fair, so do the demands on Huron.

Last year, 192,000 people visited the fair. Attendance at the fair has been rising since 2006.

This year, Jerome Hertel, South Dakota State Fairgrounds manager, is optimistic the fair will break 200,000 visitors for the first time.

"If the weather would have cooperated last year, we would have hit it," Hertel said. "That's our goal. I think we can. It's pretty likely we will."

As the number of visitors to the fair continues to increase, so has the need to house its vendors, entertainers, judges and guests. This year, the fair added 66 new camping pedestals, but it has not been enough to keep up with the demand. The campground, which has more than 1,600 spaces, is fully booked months before the fair.

Huron's nine hotels have around 400 rooms, all of which were filled more than a month prior to the fair. Many hotels, like the Comfort Inn, sell rooms for the next year when the guests are still in town, leading to an entirely booked hotel a year in advance.

"They pretty much fill up as soon as the fair is over," said Joni Kipple, vendor and concession coordinator.

When Huron's hotels and the fair's more than 1,600 campground spaces, in addition to this year's 66 new camping pedestals and the Memorial Park Campground's 73 sites are filled, the fair takes to the community to fill the demand.

"We have private residents in town that will rent out rooms, and it's always at a reasonable cost," Kiple said. "Venders and judges really enjoy it. They get down-home hospitality by staying with someone in town."

The list of locals willing to rent out rooms is around 40 people, 10 people offer campers for rent and another list exists of businesses and individuals who will allow a camper to be placed on their property once the campground is full.

"It takes a whole community to be able to house everybody," Kiple said.

The list fluctuates every year, but the list has been growing longer as locals continue to sign up to house fairgoers. Kiple said volunteers will call in to offer rooms.

If a space still cannot be found, the fair will recommend vendors stay in hotels an hour away in Mitchell, or in other nearby towns.

"We've been pretty lucky with putting new people on," Kiple said. "We could always use more."

Kiple has already given the list to those seeking rooms, and while the list helps to ease the burden of the fair's crowds, it still isn't enough.

"We have kind of called on the community to help us out and they've responded," Hertel said.

Housing isn't the only new problem the fair has encountered with the crowds.

To keep up with additional visitors, the fair has leased parking space a block and a half away and opened parking spots across the street from the fairgrounds. A new bathroom has been added to the Coyote Corner campsite, and Hertel said the fair wants to add more.

A new golf cart policy has been enacted, barring personal golf carts but offering courtesy ones, and the fair has beefed up security and gate personnel to keep up with the rising attendance.