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Pluses outweigh minuses for 2017 Indiana State Fair

Winnie the Pooh on skyride
NEW ATTRACTION: Even Winnie the Pooh took a ride on the skyride, which debuted at the 2017 Indiana State Fair.
Good weather helped crowd numbers this year.

Pleasant weather blessed most of the Indiana State Fair this year. That likely contributed to big crowds of happy people. Staff and exhibitors had prepared for the big event, and it showed. Preparation paid off during a fair that had many positive moments.

It wouldn’t be fair to tout the positives without pointing out a few things that left some people scratching their heads. But first, let’s discuss the pluses.

Whoever picked the theme “Wonderful World of Food” is a genius. “State fair” and “tasty treats” became almost interchangeable. If people weren’t talking about deep-fried Oreos, their mind was on root beer float milkshakes at the Dairy Bar or melt-in-your-mouth brisket sliders from the Indiana Beef Cattlemen’s tents. Taffy, corndogs, caramel corn, Polish sausages, giant tenderloins — the list went on and on. It certainly was a world-class food exhibit.

Continuing the tradition of “Farmers of the Day” also was a stellar move. Visitors could catch the farm families every day at the Glass Barn. Connecting farmers and non-farmers is always a plus.

Anyone who says “it’s the same old things every year” didn’t find the ultra-interactive sandbox inside Normandy Barn or the cool new displays in the Glass Barn. Thanks to Ben Gavelek of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, I found the sandbox, where technology allowed you to cause it to rain and then view the results. 

Having celebrities visit the fair never hurts. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue visited on Aug. 9, and although his appearance was tightly controlled by his minions, just having him there added prestige.

One of the coolest events was the surprise ceremony honoring Steve Hendress, coach of the Purdue dairy judging team and a longtime supporter of Indiana 4-H on Aug. 13. He was presented with several awards, and a scholarship was named in his honor.

To be fair, a few people brought up changes they didn’t understand that occurred this year. High on the list is the $5-per-animal charge every exhibitor paid for drug testing. More than one family was heard griping about that one. The complaint? Why should those who don’t cheat have to pay to test for drugs used by the small percentage of people who do cheat?

Shutting off exhibitor parking in the southeast corner of the fairgrounds also prompted grumbling. If it was done so livestock unloading and loadout could go more smoothly, that’s one thing, because it seemed as if that did go very smoothly. The problem was very few people knew about it in advance. Some found out when they pulled over to enter Gate 3 and realized they couldn’t enter there anymore. People don’t like surprises like that.

The new skyride may have been a hit, but it was hardly a favorite of many old-timers. Some complained that it knocked out several trees and the gazebo. Others wondered how it could be less of a liability than building a permanent stage so the grandstands could be used again.

Here’s an easy one to fix. Several complained they didn’t know what was going on because they couldn’t figure out the state fair website. If you’ve tried to navigate it, it’s not the easiest voyage you’ll ever take.

All in all, it appeared to be a well-run, enjoyable fair. With better communication and more good luck from Mother Nature, it could be even better next year.

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