SPRINGFIELD – Resiliency could well be the theme of the 160th Illinois State Fair.
The annual celebration of Illinois agriculture comes a year after a historic drought that scorched corn and soybean crops throughout the Midwest, dried cattle pastures and diminished hay supplies. That drought was followed by this spring’s heavy rains, which saw 35 counties declared federal disaster areas.
“Illinois farmers are veterans of resilience,” Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Bob Flider said, noting the fair will be a chance for them to celebrate the crops they continue to proudly produce, despite ongoing challenges.
“The reality is that people will pitch in and work,” he said.
Showcasing that hard work of the state will be an “Our Illinois” event in the governor’s tent, which puts local product and attractions on display, encouraging residents to shop locally. Fairgoers will see some new additions as well as old-standbys at the 10-day event, which begins Thursday.
The fried novelty of the year will be Oreo cookies encased in cookie dough and batter and then deep-fried. The fair’s $5.5 million operations budget has increased slightly compared to last year’s $4.8 million, fair spokesman Jeff Squibb said.
Admission prices have remained flat, with adults paying a $7 entry fee and $3 for a child’s admission. Veterans and seniors continue to get free admission on special days.
Squibb said attendance increased by 10 percent to about 900,000 total visitors last year. Organizers are hoping cool temps will help bring in record crowds.
For the first time, fair manager Amy Bliefnick said, the Budweiser Clydesdales will be a daily presence at the fair, with a daily parade at 4 p.m.
The fair’s “Anything’s possible” music series lineup includes evening grandstand performances by country stars Toby Keith and Kip Moore, pop artist Ke$ha, and rock musicians John Mayer and the band Journey. The grandstand will also be the site of harness racing and auto racing on some days.
The “Happy Hollow” portion of the fairground will be the site for a re-vamped Cross Fit competition, with teams from across the state competing to be labeled the fittest.
An Abraham Lincoln impersonator from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency will be present at the fair each day, walking the grounds and chatting with visitors.
The state’s Historic Preservation Agency —which once again be distributing its popular “Abe on a Stick” fan with Lincoln’s picture on it — is encouraging fairgoers to record videos reciting portions of the Gettysburg Address. The videos will be used for a 150th anniversary celebration of the speech later this year.
Some new restrictions will be in place, Bliefnick said. For one, the number of golf carts allowed on the fairgrounds will be restricted after 10 a.m. each day.
Another concern is swine flu.
The Illinois Department of Public Health on Thursday announced that a Boone County child is the state’s first case of a new strain of swine flu, H3N2v. Fair organizers said they again will provide hand-washing stations throughout barns on the fairgrounds. Animal health officials will also be watching pigs closely for signs of the disease that could be transmitted to people.
The fair starts with a preview the evening of Aug. 8 and runs through Aug. 18.