September 4, 2018
The Nebraska State Fair has a rich history – going back 149 years.
This year's fair ran Aug. 24-Sept. 3. This was the ninth year the fair has been in Grand Island.
Nebraska City hosted the first fair in 1868, then the next forty-one years, Brownville, Lincoln and Omaha would share hosting. Lancaster Co. Fairgrounds at Lincoln became the permanent home in 1909 until its relocation to Grand Island in 2009.
Growing the fair in Lincoln became hard as the city grew around the grounds. University of Lincoln (UNL) wanted to expand as well, debuting plans in 2007 for a state-of-the-art research campus titled Innovation Campus. The locale for it – the fairgrounds. But in 2008, the Nebraska Legislature voted to move the fair to Grand Island.
In 1997 the fair enjoyed the highest attendance while in Lincoln – reporting 389,171 visitors. August 2010 saw over 309,000 fairgoers in Grand Island enjoy 500,000 sq. ft. of new buildings, including 3 barns, 1 arena, and 2 exhibition buildings. 2017 attendance was 379,108. 2018 numbers are not yet tallied.
The fair continues to grow with new sponsors adding their names to new buildings or venues. One of the new buildings is the Nebraska Building which opened its doors for the first time in 2014. This building houses not only the administrative offices but allowed the return of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
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Partnering with UNL, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, a new exhibit telling about all aspects of Nebraska Agriculture was developed. Raising Nebraska: Your Food and the Families Who Grow It, shows how food gets from the farm to the fork, or the gate to the plate. As you enter, thanks to Reinke, a full-sized center pivot irrigation system is seen. Young visitors love to take a simulated ride in a combine.
This building and its extension, Raising Nebraska Outside, which shows a variety of crops and grasses grown in Nebraska, has a smaller pivot that waters the area. The Raising Nebraska building is a showcase for visitors year-round, as many tours bring their foreign and out of state visitors to truly learn about Nebraska's number one industry without breaking a sweat in the hot sun or getting dirt under their fingernails.
Being more centered and having state of the art show barns and arenas, many of them with air conditioning, has not only allowed increase in exhibitors during the state fair, but has brought in national breed shows such as the National Jr. Hereford, Simmental and Chianina shows held earlier this summer. AK-SAR-BEN held for decades in Omaha, moved to Grand Island two years ago. The Omaha location landlocked, preventing expansion.
The location may have changed, but as with the first State Fair in 1868, the products, talents and people of Nebraska are still showcased.