The Nebraska State Fair is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a lot of fun events and entertainment. But fairgoers will also be experiencing a new look and feel to the fair at Fonner Park when its gates open Friday.

“We have a lot of new things at the fair this year,” said Jamie Parr, Nebraska State Fair facility director. “We are so excited.”

For the last several weeks, Parr has been busy directing the changes to the fair that visitors will experience during its 11-day run from this Friday through Sept. 2.

She said as soon as visitors arrive at the fair, they will see the main gate has a different look than in previous years.

“Right when people walk up to that main gate, people are certainly going to see something sweet and new,” Parr said. “We have a new, colorful welcome provided by the fair’s mascots, a big stallion and a crazy rooster.”

She said the changes to the main gate are designed to create a larger presence as people enter the fairgrounds, in recognition of the importance of making a good first impression.

“We changed the welcome and thank you trusses around from last year as they didn’t turn out as we expected,” Parr said. “With this year’s structure there should be no misconception because we are glad you’re here and you’re entering the Nebraska State Fair.”

That will be the first big change people will see entering the fairgrounds.

Then, as visitors enter the fairgrounds, to the left, behind the Nebraska Building in its parking lot, will be a new addition to the Family Fun Zone.

“We are changing parking into programming this year,” Parr said. “There is quite a bit of entertainment packed in there for families as well as a couple food stands. We hope to get people engaged and interacting with the State Fair right away as they enter the fairgrounds.”

That area was used in the past for the weekend events, such as the firefighters challenge and the State Fair marathon. Now that area will have programming all 11 days of the fair.

Another area that was formerly used for parking, located north of the Heartland Events Center and south of the carnival midway, has been converted into the Sam’s Club Stomping Grounds, which will have programming all 11 days of the fair.

“That is another area which was parking but now we are transitioning it into programming,” Parr said. “We are trying to make better use of our core, the center of the fairgrounds, south of the Heartland Events Center.”

Parr described it as a “rotating festival area.” The Firefighter Combat Challenge, the Amazing Doberman Show, and the national championships for the kiddie pedal pull competition, along with other events, will be held in that area.

She said they have revamped the area in front of the Five Points Bank Livestock Arena, making the food pods smaller as they have spread food and beverage concessionaires throughout the fairgrounds.

“By making those food pods a little smaller, it has allowed us to create this central gathering area for fair guests,” Parr said. “We are calling it ‘Fair Center’ this year. It will feature the ongoing mural artwork of an artist named ARCY and he will be creating these giant murals that the State Fair will get to keep and reuse each year.”

She said ARCY will be painting a new mural each day of the fair at the Fair Center. The murals will be fair-related.

“He is very impressive,” Parr said.

The Fair Center will also have the fair’s 150th anniversary cake.

To the south of Fair Center will be the fair’s Market Place.

“We have done a lot of intermixing with our commercial vendors, entertainment and food stands,” Parr said. “All of the entertainment that we had previously had in the East Entertainment Area will now be in the Market Place, along with the Sam’s Club Stomping Grounds and the Family Fun Zone.”

Within the Market Place will be the Aurora Co-op Chill Zone.

“That will be a huge, spire-topped tent, where we will have about 50 commercial vendors, a lot of shaded seating for fair guests who are purchasing from our food stands, along with Twiggy, the water-skiing squirrel,” Parr said.

A traditional feature of the State Fair in the Market Place, the Sustainability Pavilion, has expanded and will offer educational presentations, hands-on exhibits and entertainment, she said.

There will also be a butterfly encounter and a wetlands walk-through presentation at the Sustainability Pavilion.

In the East End Area of the fairgrounds that leads to the Thompson Equine Area, Parr said, there will be antique tractors and machinery on display, along with the combine ride around the horse race track.

“What we have added differently this year is a partnership with Grand Kubota in Grand Island, who will be out with a large tractor and equipment display,” she said.

There will also be a chainsaw artist who will be performing three times a day in the East End Area. Some of his chainsaw artwork that is created during the fair will be auctioned off at the end of the fair.

At the Thompson Outdoor Equine Arena, Parr said, a number of new nightly rodeo events will be performed during the fair, along with other scheduled events.

The sports field that is located in the East End Area will have a number of events as well, along with a horse polo match at 1 p.m. on Aug. 25.

Another exciting feature at this year’s fair will be the Pump & Pantry Party Pit, where another giant tent has been added to cover the Pepsi Party Stage, beer garden and seating for 300 people.

“It is going to be a real fun place to be again this year,” Parr said. “There will be some great entertainment, both day and night.”

She said there will be plenty to do and be a part of during the Nebraska State Fair as it celebrates its 150th anniversary.

“We wanted to give people as many options as possible so people can make those special memories each time they visit the Nebraska State Fair,” Parr said.

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I cover business, ag and general reporting for the GI Independent.

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