Fairgrounds falling apart
Brilliant blue ribbons, children laughing on carnival rides and the sweet aroma of cotton candy have woven into the traditions of the Wadena County Fair over the decades. But now, these memory-filled sights, sounds and smells of summer festivity have an uncertain future in Wadena due to major financial short falls, according to fair officials.
At the July 7 Wadena County Board meeting, Tim Nolte, Ag Society vice president, said the $11,000 yearly budget the county allots the Ag Society is not sufficient funding to put on the fair and maintain the fair grounds. He said the funds only cover the cost of the fair with nothing left over for upkeep of the grounds and buildings.
"Things have to change or it doesn't need to be," Nolte told the board about the future of the Ag Society. "Financially we're on the ropes ... and short of man power. Somebody has to decide when you keep going and fumbling through it or you finish it."
Bill Stearns, county commissioner, said the fair ground buildings are in deplorable condition, adding that is not the fault of the Ag Society.
"It's going to take a major amount of money to make that place look decent," he said.
Fran Kueker, Ag Society president, said the fair has been in serious financial trouble in recent years due to money lost from rides and free entertainment for the public. She said the fair was in debt when she took over as president two years ago, and her goal is to break even with the budget.
Kueker said in addition to losing money on fair events, the Ag Society has not leased the grounds for as many special events in recent years. She said the two major events a year and one minor event the fair grounds holds can net up to $5,000.
"One of those big events won't even pay the electric bill for the year," Kueker said, about the limited impact of event money.
She said a lack of active members affects the Ag Society's ability to manage the fair. Kueker said the fair used to make an income from holding Enduro car races, but there are no longer enough volunteers to organize the events.
"It takes more than a handful of people," Kueker said. "You get burned out."
Mike Burcham, grounds maintenance supervisor, said the fair needs more volunteers to mow the grass, cut weeds, make repairs and donate supplies. He said almost all of the buildings need paint jobs and new roofs.
He said the shabby state of the fair grounds invites vandalism.
"With the condition the buildings are in," Burcham said, "it looks like an easy thing to break into."
He said that support from the community, city and county is necessary to keep the fair going. Burcham said he doesn't know who would organize the fair if the Ag Society disbanded.
"It's Wadena County's fair," he said. "It'd be a really sad thing to see this cease to exist. What's a county without a fair?"
Burcham encourages anyone interested in becoming involved with the Ag Society to contact him at (218) 632-2115.
"It's all about being ... patriotic," he said about the fair. "We're celebrating a piece of our history -- not only for our country, but our county and community."