Fair manager discusses fall classic at monthly forum

HURON – Now, for something completely different, get ready for the first-ever Diaper Derby at the South Dakota State Fair.
In 20 days the 132nd edition of the exhibition opens in Huron. Each year, the fair is jam packed, hour after hour, with activities appealing to all ages.
Even the littlest ones, who usually view everything from their strollers.
With the fair on the horizon, “the pressure’s on and we’re certainly feeling it,” State Fair Manager Peggy Besch said Thursday.
“But we’ll be ready when it gets here,” she said at the District 22 Democratic Forum.
Attendance, vendor and camping numbers have been steadily increasing for several years. A year ago, 211,000 people spent time at the fair.
But Besch is unsure what will happen this year. She’s been carefully monitoring what’s going on with other fairs, as some have been reporting a downturn, likely due to a struggling agriculture economy and other factors.
A little more than 1,900 camping spaces were sold on the fairgrounds last year.
“As of last week, we were just shy of 1,700 and they’re still coming in,” Besch said, adding they hope to hit the 2,000 mark.
A bright spot is the growing number of off-season events happening on the state fairgrounds. It reflects a 53 percent increase over 2016.
There are 103 events booked this year, accounting for 202 event days.
“And it could be anything from an auction to a wedding to a barrel race to a camping rally, just a lot of activities out there,” she said.
Three major events coming up in the next three years will bring thousands of people to Huron from around the world.
First off in 2018 and 2019 is the National Junior High Finals, the second largest rodeo in the world, with more than 1,000 contestants from 42 states, five Canadian provinces and Australia.
Besch said 150 volunteers will be needed to host those rodeos.
It’s a weeklong event, but people will start arriving in town up to two weeks before it begins.
Then there’s the National Red Power Roundup that Huron hosted in 2014 and will host again in 2020. It could attract 19,000 people to the city.
Besch said the state has been good about allocating funding for a number of maintenance and repair projects on the grounds this summer.
“I don’t know that we’ve ever had this much activity going on, at least in a lot of years,” she said.
“I like to believe that because there’s so many things happening out there in events and activities and national events that people are starting to recognize the value of the fair,” Besch said.
Something new this year will be Crowns and Capes Day on Labor Day.
“We will have princesses running around the fairgrounds as well as superheroes,” she said. “That will be fun for kids to interact with them.”
It’s also Pay it Forward Day.
“Businesses and individuals can purchase tickets at a discount price, and we work with United Way to distribute them to families in need,” Besch said.
“We had great success last year and it’s going really well this year as well,” she said.
Racing fans and State Fair staff, meanwhile, are sad to see that Dakota State Fair Speedway promoter Orville Chenoweth has decided to retire after more than 20 years.
“It’s heartbreaking, but we had a lot of conversations about it and there comes a time in your life where your priorities shift, so I understand his reasoning,” Besch said.
Chenoweth put a lot of time, work and resources into the job, she said.
“He’s going to be tough to replace,” she said. “It’s a big hit for us and it’s a big hit for the city of Huron.”
So, what about that Diaper Derby?
It has nothing to do with how fast they can be changed, but how quickly the wearers can move in them.
“Test your baby’s speed,” this year’s State Fair Event Guide announces.
Babies, 15 months and under, will crawl from one side of the NorthWestern Energy Freedom Stage to the other. The fastest three will go home with a “state-of-the-art Diaper Derby trophy.”
Now, how’s that for a State Fair packed with events that appeal to the competitive spirit of all ages?


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