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.