Operators of the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia have taken steps to avoid massive delays entering on site campgrounds prior to the annual event.
During a 2016 legislative oversight committee hearing, State Rep. Jay Houghton (R-Martinsburg) said there was a seven hour wait to gain access into the RV Park. State Fair Director Mark Wolfe says the number of vehicles attempting to enter the facility skyrocketed from 2015 to 2016.
“That has just kind of exploded” said Wolfe. It’s grown dramatically. Just two years ago we were at 400. And last year, by the end of the day over 1,200. We just got overrun. Nobody knew that was coming and it just took us a lot longer to get folks in, and of course it was a blistering hot day.”
The day in which delays were so long was well before actual state fair itself. The RV Park opens a week in advance of the event, and vehicles line up prior to that day in hopes of getting a preferred camping spot.
While in a holding spot, the RV’s sit on asphalt pavement on the main side of the fairgrounds campus across the street from the park. Wolfe says procedures have been changed to allow for preregistering before the vehicles enter the park, which he thinks will vastly improve the process.
“This year, we’re going to have portable credit card machines and everything out here on the grounds on the main side of the fairground campus, so that where they’re lining up, we can go ahead as soon as they start pulling in for the lineup, we’ll start giving them their paperwork, collect their fees and have them ready to go.”
Wolfe is hopeful the new series of steps will dramatically increase the speed of access to the RV Park. He thinks the surge in RV traffic before the park opens is due to the limited number of camp sites available.
“You begin to get this early rush of folks to try to get here and claim a site. I think that probably is what attributes to the increase in number of campers. Folks just know that ‘If I want to get a site at the state fairgrounds, I’m going to have to get there early.”
A new camping area is in the process of being constructed to increase camping availability, although funding was exhausted before it was completed in time for this year’s fair. It’ll be open for “dry” camping, meaning without utilities. The state fair has roughly 1,100 “full hookup” sites which offer electricity, water and sewer provisions.
The state fair no longer receives General Revenue or Capital Improvement funds from the State Legislature. That source of financing was eliminated after 2011. Wolfe says the fair has an operating budget of $4.5 million.
The average attendance for the annual 11 day event is 350,000, which is not large compared to some other states. Wolfe attributes the lower totals at the Missouri fair to its location in a rural city with limited options for lodging.
“There are certain restrictions to the growth of this fair, just simply because there’s no place for people to stay” Wolfe said. “I would say pretty much everything in Marshall, Warrensburg and any other surrounding town that has motels is full. In the month of August you probably can’t get a room right now if you tried. Certainly in Sedalia, that’s the case.”
Total entries in the fair hover around 30,000 every year. Agriculture is the major driver. Wolfe says the livestock exhibitions are the single biggest draw.
“Our participation numbers are huge. We’ll have somewhere around 5,000 4-H and FFA kids exhibiting, and they bring somewhere around 15,000 to 18,000 entries to the fair each year, sheep, cattle, chicken, rabbits, you name it.” (“FFA” stand for Future Farmers of America while 4-H offers projects for kids to get hands-on training in several fields, notably agriculture).
Wolfe notes Missouri is different from some state fairs around the country which have tended to focus solely on amusements in recent years. “Some of them are mostly just carnivals anymore. They’re not so much into the agriculture side. Certainly here in Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, around the Midwest they’re still very, very much ag oriented.”
This year will mark the 115th Missouri State Fair, which dates back to 1901. It’s had a continuous run, except for 1943 and 1944 when it was cancelled during World War II.