Grange Hall, one of the land­marks of the Hillsdale County Fair­ground. COLLEGIAN | Josephine von Dohlen

The tens of thou­sands of people who flood the Hillsdale County fair­grounds for the 168th annual county fair Sept. 23 – 29 will find familiar staples: grand­stand shows, the animal birthing tent, rides, and fried food. But the grand­stand itself will sport a makeover, and a new optional alert system will keep attendees informed throughout the event.

Thanks to a grant from the Michigan Department of Agri­culture and Rural Devel­opment, the grand­stand will have a new area for hand­i­capped patrons and an improved track for pulling events, said Lori Hull, the fair manager. The stand will sport new siding — which, for now, means the side no longer boasts “The Most Popular Fair On Earth” slogan, although Hull said there are plans to replace the slogan after the fair. There wasn’t enough time to do so beforehand, she said.

And for the first time, text alerts pro­vided through the county’s new RAVE alert system will update fair­goers who opt into the system of orga­ni­za­tional matters and emer­gencies, said Central Dis­patch Director Doug Sanford.

Oth­erwise, any changes “won’t be obvious in terms of pro­grams,” Hull said. She said she expects about the same number of people to come this year — a number she esti­mates to reach 100,000 throughout the course of the week.

Daily grand­stand events include monster trucks, a tractor pull, a Demo Derby, and the Western Days Min­istries Rodeo, according to the fair’s website.

The city expects about the same traffic and business as usual during this year’s fair week, said Hillsdale City Manager David Mackie.

The fair brings in tourists and “has a good net effect on business,” though some busi­nesses benefit more than others, Mackie said.

For the Hillsdale police force, the fair presents a security chal­lenge. The county fair orga­ni­zation — which is pri­vately owned — pro­vides a private security force, said Hillsdale Police and Fire Chief Scott Hephner. But the Hillsdale police will have at least one cer­tified officer on the grounds and 4 – 6 reserve officers on the fair­grounds at all times.

Common problems brought to police at the fair include missing children, stalking, and some fights, Hephner said. He added that in the “best case,” the police are there pri­marily to provide direc­tions and peace of mind, but when problems arise, people need to know what to do.

The police are also in charge of traffic control and met with the fair board last week to discuss plans, Hephner said.

Overall, the fair raises security costs only min­i­mally, he said, noting that the reserve officers are vol­un­teers.

“We’re ready, we have our plans,” Hephner said. “We want people to come into the city and enjoy for a week.”

Hull said she expects the fair, dubbed “The Most Popular Fair on Earth,” to be as popular as ever.

“The county fair is what everyone has to do in the last week of Sep­tember,” she said.

To receive county-fair related text alerts, text  HILLSFAIR2018 to 226787. The group will con­tinue through Oct. 1.