DEWITT — Most people might think it’s a little early to start thinking about this year’s Clinton County Fair, which is slated July 17 through July 21.
But for those in charge of planning it, that task is well underway and includes a new carnival vendor. After all, there are 105 fairs held in Iowa each year — the lion’s share of which take place in July.
Carnival companies need to be reserved, and entertainment ideas need to be generated and scheduled.
Time is of the essence when so many fair organizers are competing for some of the same dates.
Mary Stevenson, who has served as manager of the Clinton County Fair for almost eight years and is secretary of the fair board, knows all too well just how much preparation is involved.
Especially when you want the fair to be both fun and family friendly.
Stevenson hopes to achieve that goal this year with a new carnival — one that promises to be bigger and better than what has been offered in the past.
“We’ve had a new one every year for about three years now,” she said. “This one is supposed to be pretty nice, with lots of rides. Last year, people weren’t happy with what [the carnival] provided. They didn’t have much for teens.”
But this particular carnival company, which is called CDAC Amusements out of Peoria, Illinois, is one some of the Clinton County Fair Board members have checked out for themselves. They say it has something for all ages.
Another change this year will be the location of the carnival.
Instead of blocking off a portion of East Eighth Street like last year, the carnival company has requested to set up in the northwest corner of the fairgrounds.
Finding just the right carnival company can be tricky for many reasons, Stevenson explained.
In addition to having enough rides and games to appeal to a broad range of ages, many carnival companies require they make a certain amount of money.
If by the end of the fair that amount has not been reached, it is up to the fair board to make up the difference.
CDAC Amusements does not make such a stipulation.
“If they see potential and make good money while they’re here, they’ll keep coming back,” Stevenson related. “But if they don’t, they won’t.”
Carnival companies also are becoming difficult to find, and trying to book one — especially in Iowa in July — is particularly challenging.
“It’s a game we have to play,” Stevenson added. “But we want to have something for everyone to enjoy.”
As for other activities fair visitors can look forward to this year, Stevenson noted, things still are in the planning stages. But people can count on daily events and activities, 4-H and FFA exhibits and livestock shows.
One of the most-requested events year after year is for the fair to host a concert.
Stevenson said she and the board have talked extensively to other fair organizers around the state about having a concert.
It’s a possibility for the future, though it may be a lesser-known performer and one who is more affordable, Stevenson said. Then hopefully, with time, the fair board will be able to generate enough income to bring in bigger acts.
“We cannot afford it at this time,” Stevenson related. “That is the goal, down the road. My guess is it will take a few years to get to that point. The city has been great to us; last year was the first year we were able to have beer in the grandstands. That makes the possibility of having a concert more feasible. Other fairs will tell you, they couldn’t do it without alcohol sales. You’re talking at least $20,000-$30,000 to get somebody … even if they’re not really well-known.”
There also are additional expenses, including lighting, sound and security — all of which would have to be arranged and paid for by the fair board.
One thing Stevenson said the Clinton County Fairgrounds is missing that could help cover the cost of larger-scale events like a concert is a racetrack.
“Jackson County has one … it helps to generate more money throughout the whole summer, rather than just at fair time,” Stevenson said.
Regardless of what they might be, Stevenson said she’s always looking for new and fun ideas and wants to hear from community members.
She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One thing that never changes when it comes to the fair is how vital volunteers are to its success year after year.
Hanging in Stevenson’s office at the fairgrounds is a sign that reads, “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart to help at the fair.”
“We definitely could not do what we do without our volunteers,” she shared. “Anyone who is interested in helping out, we can always use more people. The help is very much appreciated.”
Kate Howes is a staff writer with the DeWitt Observer.