Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias Sometimes, the way we plan things here in South Dakota is just plain quirky.

The South Dakota State Fair just finished its one week run on Sunday, Aug. 2.

It ended just in time for the Sioux Empire Fair in Sioux Falls to begin on Tuesday, Aug. 5. That fair will end Aug. 10.

That means, ironically, that 4-H participants in Minnehaha County may receive more time to get their livestock and other 4-H projects prepared for their county fair than other 4-H�ers across the state.

At least that�s what we believe may be happening. A call to the Sioux Empire Fair office to clarify this issue didn�t shed much light. The kind woman who answered the office phone said 4-H�ers had their livestock and other projects on display at the fair, but she made it sound like the 4-H activity was merely a display, not an Achievement Days show.

We may be confused. Maybe 4-H�ers in Minnehaha County had their Achievement Days before the state fair like youth in the rest of the state.

According to the Sioux Empire Fair�s schedule, however, 4-H�ers have been showing goats, sheep, dairy, poultry, swine, beef and rabbits all week.

For those shows to have any sort of meaning, we�re assuming they�re being judged. If our assumption is correct, it means Minnehaha County�s 4-H youth have more time to work on their livestock, horticulture and craft projects than other youth.

Even if we�re wrong (and we�d be the first to admit we may be mistaken here) it�s time for South Dakota to take stock of the scheduling of its state fair.

It stinks, to put it mildly.

The state fair for years opened in late August and ended on Labor Day. In 2000, state fair officials moved the dates up a month, in part to avoid conflicts with the early start of school.

That, in turn, has forced county fairs to break tradition and be held about a month earlier in July.

It means livestock are shorted a month of development. It means some horticulture projects can�t even be attempted, because the plants� growing season has been cut short.

And, frankly, evidence that an earlier date is benefitting the state fair is not particularly overwhelming.

Gov. Mike Rounds said recently that another adjustment to the state fair starting date might be in order.

We agree.

�My personal opinion is there might be other dates more conducive than the ones we�re using,� Rounds said in a recent news report. �I�ve talked to some representatives involved, and said to take a second look.�

Rounds said he wasn�t advocating a return to late August.

�Something closer to Labor Day, but not including Labor Day. That�s too late, too close to the opening of schools,� he said.

Agriculture Secretary Larry Gabriel said fairgoers can expect changes in the future.

In 2001, budgetary authority was transferred to the Department of Agriculture. During the recent legislative session, total authority was vested with Gabriel�s office.

Gabriel said the grandstand needs to make more of a profit, and the campgrounds need work. Needed are an upgraded electrical system and a state-of-the-art campground for larger motor homes, he said.

�This is not going to be easy. It�s going to take everyone and we can succeed,� he said.

Susan Hayward, the fair�s new manager, agrees.

�There is so much work to be done. People have asked me if I�m overwhelmed, but I�m not. There is a lot of work to do. Are we going to get it done? Yeah. We�re going to try hard.�

Rounds said the fair must be �user friendly,� and not just for fairgoers.

�We owe it to vendors to be cognizant of their time frames,� he said.

The fair has been battling a decline in attendance in recent years, but Rounds said the decline started before the starting date was changed.

Facing red ink exceeding $400,000, aging buildings that need repair, and declining attendance, Hayward pronounced this year�s event in Huron on track, but said long-term problems loom.

She called the $400,000 debt �the tip of the iceberg.�

Most of the buildings are in poor condition, she said, and if the fair is to succeed in attracting 200,000 visitors annually, �you have to get it up to snuff.�

Hayward said a key to making the state fair pay for itself is attracting what she called �interim events,� such as tractor shows, horse shows, and concerts.

Because the fairgrounds is so large and contains so many buildings, it must be used much more than once a year in order to get a return on investment, she said. Figuring out which events can be brought in, and which ones will be successful, is central to putting the fair on solid financial footing, she said.

We can�t help but believe that a good place to start is by tapping into the fair�s nostalgic strength.

It�s time to move the start of the state fair to the end of the summer.

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