By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT, McLEOD, CARVER, MEEKER COUNTIES, MN Nothing to do in a small town?
In the past few weeks, Wright, McLeod, Carver, and Meeker county residents have had a bountiful buffet of outing options.
Four county fairs, movies in the park, city celebrations, concerts, charity fundraisers, business promotion events, street dances, tractor pulls, National Night Out . . . the list is seemingly endless.
“August is the time of year where families get together,” McLeod County Fair Manager Marian Filk said. “Going to events becomes a tradition, whether it’s new ones like RiverSong, or ones that are almost 140 years old, like the McLeod County Fair.”
In Winsted, the two big August events are Higher Ground Music Festival and Winsted Summer Festival.
“We kept in contact with them to make sure we didn’t overlap,” Higher Ground organizer Terry Fasching said. “It’s a lot of the same people who volunteer.”
Typically, Higher Ground had been the third weekend in August, but it was moved to Aug. 5-6 this year.
“The way it fell this year, it would have been Aug. 20, and that’s too late,” Fasching said. “More and more schools are starting early, and you run into football and volleyball practices.”
Another scheduling challenge for Higher Ground is securing the musicians, who may be performing at other concerts.
Plenty of participants
The steady stream of events doesn’t necessarily mean a smaller crowd, however.
“We were up a little from last year,” Wright County Fair Board Member George Mead said. In 2010, about 55,000 people came, and this year, there were 57,000.
The combine derby alone had 11,352 people, Mead added.
The Meeker County Fair, which was the same week, also had a good turnout.
“The attendance was great,” Meeker County Fair secretary Holly SchultzAnderson said. “We were just down by 15 people.”
Many people went to both Wright and Meeker county fairs.
“I was just talking to someone who said they rode the scrambler at the Wright County Fair, and then they came to Meeker County and rode a bunch of rides, too,” Anderson said.
Pola-Czesky Days in Silver Lake was also the first weekend in August.
According to Silver Lake City Clerk Kerry Venier, attendance was typical, with more than 2,000 people each day.
Nine teams participated in the kickball tournament, 59 people did the fun run on the Luce Line Trail, and there were about 60 units in the parade.
Venier said he doesn’t think the surrounding events hindered attendance at all.
“I think, in the summer, people like to get out and enjoy themselves,” he said. “People come home for the weekend, you see a lot of family reunions. It’s like a Silver Lake holiday.”
The Carver County Fair, which was the second week in August, had a large crowd as well.
“It’s a guesstimate right now, but we think we finally broke 100,000,” Carver County Fair Manager Mike Jensen said. “That would be our best fair ever. Those numbers aren’t confirmed, yet, though.”
Weather . . . or not
Jensen said he thinks that the 100th anniversary of the Carver County Fair, combined with favorable weather, contributed to the high attendance.
Movies in the park are also subject to weather whims.
Winsted Holding Activities That Unite People (WHAT UP) had “Shrek” Aug. 19 at Mill Reserve Park. Fasching said he has taken his children to some of the movies, and he’s seen as many as 150 people in attendance.
This year’s Winsted Summer Festival, Aug. 12-14, had a questionable weather forecast, but turned out well.
The only activity that was postponed was the fireworks Friday night, because of predicted storms.
Earlier in the day, the canoe race had 13 teams, plus a large crowd of cheering fans. The run/walk Aug. 13 was also a success, with 49 participants in the 5K, and nine participants in the 10K.
The Cokato Corn Carnival the second week in August also lucked out this year, Cokato Corn Carnival Chair Dorene Erickson said.
“We worry about that [weather] the most, and there’s nothing we can do about it. That will make or break it.” she said.
“Last year, we had it about as bad as it could get, and this year, it was about as good as it could get,” she added. “We probably had near-record crowds.”
Earlier in the summer, people might have stayed home more because of the heat and humidity, Erickson said.
“When it got nice out, they just opened up their doors and took off,” she said.
All the excitement can take a toll on volunteers and planners, however.
“Some of the organizers are involved in multiple things at the same time, and they’re spread pretty thin,” said Joe Tipka, past president of the Delano Area Chamber of Commerce.
The first week in August, Tipka, who manages Coborn’s in Delano, was personally involved in three events.
“We had the Taste of Delano that Wednesday, a kids’ day at Coborn’s Thursday, and we served a senior citizens’ meal at the Wright County Fair Friday,” Tipka said.
The week before, Delano had its Relay for Life, and the week after was a Pair-A-Dice Cruisers classic car show.
“We’ve got a couple of hectic weeks,” Tipka said, adding that the store’s “last hurrah” before winter is a customer appreciation dinner Thursday, Aug. 25.
Montrose Days is squeezed in between, Aug. 19 and 20.
In Cokato and Dassel, the end of summer is also a crazy time, with the Meeker County Fair Aug. 4-7, Cokato Corn Carnival Aug. 8-10, Darwin’s Twine Ball Day and Cokato’s annual movie in the park Aug. 13, and Red Rooster Days Sept. 2-5.
A full schedule
With so many activities, scheduling can sometimes be tricky.
“People ask us continually why we don’t change it [the Cokato Corn Carnival] to a weekend,” Erickson said. “There would just not be a weekend where we wouldn’t be hurting someone else’s event. Plus, it’s been that way for 62 years, so it’s tradition.”
In Delano, a community calendar is available online at www.delanocalendar.net, which helps organizers schedule their events without overlap.
“The community calendar helps a lot,” Tipka said.
Delano’s Dream Team II President Chris Brazelton said it might also be beneficial for organizers to meet occasionally to coordinate their events.
“We have wonderful people in the community, and they’re all working hard to make Delano better,” she said.
By coordinating goals and projects, they might be able to accomplish more, without the risk of burning out the volunteers, she added.
Budgeting for fun
Another limiting factor of summer events is money. With job losses and financial turbulence the last few years, many people are on a tighter budget than in the past.
“Everyone has a certain amount of money set aside for entertainment,” Erickson said.
Button sales at the Cokato Corn Carnival are still not as high as they were five years ago, and total profit for the event has been down about 15 percent the past three years.
“That, I think, is the economy,” Erickson said.
Events that charge admission are also seeing a drop.
Higher Ground, for example, was down about 5 percent in attendance this year, with about 4,000 participants.
Fasching said that nationwide, many Christian festivals had a 25 percent decrease in attendance this year. He wasn’t sure of the reason, but guessed that it could be due to the economy.
The Carson and Barnes Circus came to the Wright County Fairgrounds in Howard Lake Aug. 11. Tickets were $12 for adults and $6 for children.
At Silver Lake’s Pola-Czesky Days, Venier said that sales were down a bit in the beer tent, but the event went well overall.
Advanced tickets for the Taste of Delano were $7 for adults and $3 for children ages 10 and under. The “all you can eat” event included a variety of local dishes, as well as music, prizes, a petting zoo, moonwalk, and other activities.
In Elk River, there is a similar event, except that it is more expensive and for adults only.
“We wanted to make it more family-oriented,” Tipka said.
‘Tis the season
For many communities, August is “crunch time” before the start of school, sports, and chilly weather.
Events in the fall have less competition, but there are other disadvantages.
“The McLeod County Fair used to be in September,” Filk said, explaining that it changed to August in the early 1960s, so that it wouldn’t conflict with the Minnesota State Fair, and to avoid the risk of cold weather.
In general, people don’t seem to mind having back-to-back events as summer winds down, according to Mead.
“I think they get used to it,” he said.
“The nice part about having so many events is that there’s something for everybody,” Brazelton said. “It certainly makes a very rich community.”