Preparing the grounds
More than 300,000 visitors are expected at the Clay County Fair and it's up to more than 30 facilities staff members to make sure the fairgrounds are attractive and welcoming.
The crew is built on three full-time employees, including grounds superintendent Denny Barrick. Starting in May, the staff grows to about 30 temporary employees and even more are added once the fair begins.
Projects range from basic maintenance to key infrastructure improvements.
Exhibitors begin entering the fairgrounds more than three weeks before the fair begins, so key jobs must already be completed.
"Outdoor exhibitors can start setting up Aug. 15," Clay County Fair manager Jeremy Parsons said. "The grounds have to be mowed and staked out. It takes two guys a week to measure and stake out the spots for exhibitors. Once the ground is staked, we're pretty good to go from there and they start moving in after that."
Department superintendents work throughout the winter to make sure their respective areas are ready. Entries began arriving Friday. Volunteers worked until 7 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Monday, in preparation for judging on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then, they'll go to work arranging everything on Thursday.
"If you're involved with the fair, Labor Day is not a holiday," Parsons said.
Campers began pulling in Monday. Before that could happen, crews numbered the rows, measured and painted stripes for each lot and made sure the utilities were in working order.
Electric, sewer and water projects go unseen when they are working correctly, so improvements were made in those areas.
"We made big electric upgrades in the grandstand and food court area in an effort to avoid the issues we had last year," Parsons said, referencing an outage.
Some of the more noticeable improvements include new steel on the entrance towers and front of the grandstands, a new roof on the Ag Learning Center and a permanent sound system in the grandstands, a new ticket booth and a Clay County Fair merchandise stand.
"Proceeds from the merchandise are going back to the fair to renovate the buildings and grounds," Parsons said. "This year it paid for bleacher improvements on the south side of the outdoor arena and big screen TVs in Grandpa's Barn for individuals to watch information about different things."
The thought process behind the trust is simple.
"So many people that love the fair and have a passion for it want to give back," Parsons said. "We can provide opportunities for all people who love the fair to donate."
One such opportunity, in addition to purchasing merchandise, will allow fairgoers to pay for a bench with a personalized plaque.
Members of the Clay County Fair Association believe all the donations will add up in a big way. They plan to announce a five-year plan to upgrade the grounds leading up to the fair's 100th birthday in 2017.
For now, everyone is focused on the fair at hand.
"Everyone, at this point, is focused on individual areas," Parsons said. "They're detail-oriented, so my job is to make sure everything overall is going well."