SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois State Fair, an 11-day showcase of agriculture and family fun, kicked off Aug. 11 with the theme “Grow With Us.”
“That theme is really evident in so many ways out here on the fairgrounds, from the improvements that you see on the grounds to the youth exhibitors that show year after year to our need to grow and expand and modify our business model to meet the changing face of our fairgoers,” said Rebecca Clark, fair manager.
In planning for this year’s Aug. 11-21 event, Clark said the fair staff was cognizant of the higher gas and food prices, as well as the overall higher cost of living.
“It was really important to us that we hold the line on our prices as much as we could. With that in mind, there are no changes to admission prices this year,” she said at the Aug. 4 media fair preview event.
Adults are still half price Sunday through Thursday. Kids 12 and under are free every day of the fair. There’s no change in parking costs on the grounds.
“To go a step further, we wanted to be proactive and create ways for fairgoers to be able to eat affordably,” Clark added.
Clark said the fair’s “Feeding Frenzy” is back in 2022 for people to get discounted food from participating vendors from 2 to 5 p.m. each day.
“It’s a perfect opportunity for fairgoers to come out for a late lunch or an early supper before a concert,” she noted.
There also will be a new option for anyone wanting to explore the best food from across the world by trying a sample-sized item from each of the Village of Cultures vendors for $3 during the “Small Plates, Big Tastes” promotion daily. The State Fair team modeled this idea off of traditional Spanish tapas.
“You can sample your way around the world and do it affordably at $3 apiece,” Clark said.
Among the new features this year is a dinosaur exhibit. Jurassic Park fans will enjoy the new exhibit with lifelike creatures from prehistoric times.
Dino Don is bringing two dozen animatronic dinosaurs to the fair’s Happy Hollow for kids of all ages to interact with. People can meet their favorite T. rex, stegosaurus, or triceratops for $8.
Fairgoers don’t have dig deep into their pocketbooks to enjoy their visit as there are numerous free and fun activities.
Just up the road from Happy Hollow is the Expo Building, traditionally home to small entrepreneurs who are introducing new products.
“This year we’re really trying to drive traffic into that area and breathe new life into the building. We’ve added a new free entertainment stage that will allow fairgoers to come in for some shade, a seat and a free show,” Clark said.
The entertainment will include a daily chopped challenge and a free Lego contest on the final day of the fair. Also new to the Expo Building is a selfies gallery with a dozen unique photo booths.
There will also be free nightly musical entertainment on the Grand Central Stage in the newly remodeled Reisch Pavilion.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture tent will host numerous free activities and samples throughout the fair, including free samples from local food artisans, free children’s activities and free programs on the Illinois Farm Bureau Stage, including the USDA Beagle Brigade, Hemp-crete demonstrations from the Illinois Hemp Growers Association, the Lego Bee-Hive Building, Farmer Phil and others.
Conservation World, a popular area on the Department of Natural Resources grounds, is chock-full of free activities and educational programs for all ages.
Much-needed infrastructure improvements will be apparent to fair visitors this year, and more will begin after the fair closes for 2022.
IDOA Director Jerry Costello II noted Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently announced a $58.1 million investment in upgrade at the fairgrounds in Springfield and DuQuoin.
“This spring we kicked off a $4.1 million road construction project on the fairgrounds,” Costello said.
The roads along the cattle barns, swine barn and along the Avenue of Flags were repaired and resurfaced to withstand heavy trailer traffic often used during livestock shows and vendor deliveries during the fair.
“Following the fair, we will begin Phase 2 of the multiphase Coliseum renovation, including electrical overhaul, underground plumbing, new seating, new restrooms, installation of an elevator and HVAC for heating and cooling of the facility and it will allow for year-round uses of the Coliseum, which is a gem of the Illinois State Fairgrounds,” Costello added.
“Another improvement that’s taking place that will affect this year’s fair to a degree because we will not be able to use the Multi-Purpose Arena, which is undergoing some much-needed work due to years of deferred maintenance; there will be a total revamp of the MPA.
“It’s an $8.6 million project for repair of sidewalks, walls, steps and expansion joints, while also repairing electrical systems, readjusting the tension structure, installing a new canopy and rebuilding retaining walls around the facility.”
Events that are normally scheduled in the MPA will be at different areas around the fairgrounds of some will be rescheduled. An example of that is the Outlaw 5J Rodeo, rescheduled for Sept. 25 in the Coliseum.
The STEAM Expo’s drone racing will be held Friday, Aug. 19, at the Grandstand. The ITPA Truck and Tractor Pulls and demolition derby will return to the fair in 2023.