We all want to be part of something big.
For nine days this summer, that something big is the Elkhart County 4-H Fair.
It’s the biggest event of the year for this area, and I've heard it’s the second biggest 4-H fair in the country.
That’s unconfirmed, Kristy Ambrosen at the fair office told me. It’s a legend that could have started when Midwest Living magazine named Elkhart County’s fair as one of the best many years ago.
5 things that have changed since last year’s fair:
1. You’ll go through a different gate.
Gate 5 is no longer the main entrance for fairgoers. You’ll go down the road a bit farther and enter through Gate 7.
2. The tram will get you to the fair quicker.
Trams are now inside a gated area so they won’t be blocked by passing cars or people walking. The idea is to give trams an unobstructed route from people’s cars to the entrance of the fair.
3. The restroom is closer.
A new restroom sits right inside Gate 7. People just arriving at the fair will be able to visit the restroom right away, rather than walking a distance to get there.
4. There’s more seating in the grandstands.
Several new seating areas were put in for this year’s fair, adding about 1,000 seats to the grandstands.
5. Sirens will go off in an emergency.
New orange sirens are visible on several poles around the fairgrounds. These will be used in case of an emergency.
The actual size of the fair doesn't really matter. What matters more are the experiences people look forward to ... the things we won’t stop talking about for a while.
Like deep-fried butter.
Or camping out all day for a nighttime concert.
Tim Yoder, the fair board president, told me he knows of a family whose favorite fair event comes when the fair is nearly over.
They watch the Ferris wheel being taken down on the last night of the fair. It’s a tradition they take seriously, Yoder said. The family takes naps during the day to prepare to stay up late, and the family packs hot chocolate.
The significance local people place on the fair is one reason fair officials are being cautious as they plan how to expand the county’s biggest event.
They have 253 acres of new land to work with, but Yoder says they want to make sure the fair stays true to its mission of promoting 4-H.
Not everyone who goes to the fair is there to look at 4-H exhibits or animals, but they usually end up in one of those areas while they wait for the concert to start, or they’ll take their children there after hitting up the rides on the midway.
If the fair expands too far away from the main 4-H buildings, Yoder worries people won’t make the trek anymore.
Ambrosen, the fair’s marketing coordinator, sees the new land as a way to attract more people, people with niche interests who aren’t coming to the fair now.
That could mean making more space for intramural sports. It could mean having an area for remote-controlled car enthusiasts.
Whatever changes come in the next few years, they’ll add to the family-oriented atmosphere of the fair.
“We don’t try to be the biggest fair,” Ambrosen said. “We try to be the best we can be with what we have.”