State Fair's RV campground rolls out the welcome mat

Roy and Barbara Anderson of Grand Island serve as campground hosts at the RV campground at the Nebraska State Fair. (Courtesy photo)

Roy Anderson describes himself and his wife, Barbara, as an RV couple.

After 30 years of marriage labeled them empty nesters — with kids fanned out in Omaha, Connecticut and Illinois — the Andersons determined to travel more.

"We've since wintered in Texas, been all over the Midwest and up north and usually take a two-week trip once a year throughout the country," Roy said.

And now that their family has grown to include seven grandchildren, the Andersons are sure that the RV they purchased a decade ago was among their better investments.

But no one travels the country hauling a scaled-down version of their home without acquiring a few stories, and Roy's no exception. On their maiden voyage, for example, he recalls getting stuck in the mud during a rainstorm at Hall County Park. So he'll naturally never forget the friendly folks in the camper nearby who helped get them backed in and properly hooked up to utilities.

Then there was the time their fuel pump went out at Interstate 80 and Highway 281, or the time they blew a tire, tearing down the support bar for the awning, and this past Memorial Day, when high winds knocked their parked vehicle right off its blocks.

Roy just chuckles.

"You learn how to deal with the problems when they come up, and really, they're few and far between," he said.

Following recent repairs to the brake system and motor, the Andersons are happy to finally have their home on wheels up and running in time for a short stay at Hall County Park, a quick jaunt to Colorado and their return to Grand Island just in time for the Nebraska State Fair.

Though the Andersons have lived in Grand Island since 1971, they're looking forward to their second year spent camping at the State Fair.

No, they didn't sell their home and move into their RV full time. But their experience on the road, coupled with a good lay of the land, makes them naturals for the additional title of Nebraska State Fair's campground host couple — a joint position for which they were nominated and gladly accepted prior to the first run of the fair in their own backyard.

But this year's fair is likely to keep Roy and Barbara hopping. Jaime Parr, facility director for the Nebraska State Fair, said the recent addition of 80 new pads with access to utilities (sewer, power and water) brings the total number of RV parking spots to 130, a substantial increase from only 50 last year.

And that's just the beginning. Next year will see 60 to 80 more, bringing the total number of lots close to 200. Parr said that amount puts Grand Island's facilities in line with what was available in Lincoln.

The exact numbers of campers is difficult to project, but the relocation of the fair "made us closer for some people and further away for others," Parr said, adding that, "truthfully, I think as many camp spaces as we have available will get filled."

Consequently, she and office assistant Ashley Potrzeba have armed themselves with additional information about 10 to 15 other campsites within a 50-mile radius of the fairgrounds for any potentially displaced campers once Fonner Park is filled to capacity.

Long-term plans include developing the lots themselves from their current state — approved only for State Fair use — to compliance with city code, which requires a certain pavement-to-grass ratio, for instance. Though the initial expense of readying the campground has come from the State Fair's pocketbook, year-round usability would not only bring additional revenue, but also provide more economical and convenient accommodations during other events and concerts at Fonner Park and citywide.

Of course, anyone expecting a bunch of company knows that amenities matter, and it's fair to say that the State Fair's facilities are far from campy. The clubhouse and five restrooms (each complete with a toilet, shower and sink) are just the beginning of services that, in the future, will expand and even include laundry facilities.

"And while I wouldn't say anything's complete this year," Parr said, "I think it's obvious that, when it does get done, it will be really nice."

Apparently, that's also the word on the street. Last year's reservations exceeded availability, and this year, reservations are already pouring in.

"We're just over half full already," Parr said. "So people should call now if they think they may want to stay here during the fair."

Roy Anderson agrees, though he hopes there's room for a few walk-ons, "like the couple that, last year, just happened to be traveling across the country, saw the fair signs and decided to spend the weekend with us." His kind of folks.

Assuming this year will be anything like last, Roy and Barbara Anderson will arrive on the scene Wednesday, Aug. 24, before the first vendor, competitor or visitor rolls in. From their post at the campground office, they'll greet people as they arrive, show them to their lots and answer any questions about the fair or Grand Island in general.

Throughout the week, they'll be on hand, get to know folks, celebrate purple ribbons and make friends. Who knows, Roy might help someone get settled during a rainstorm or show a few newbies how to make an omelet in a plastic bag — just one way he makes the most of a cramped kitchen.

Then, after the fair wraps up and they've bid the last stragglers farewell — sometime after Labor Day — the Andersons will roll out of Fonner Park themselves and drive the short two and a half miles to their other home … or next destination.

Beyond these few expectations, however, there's no telling what this year could bring.

"We just know we're looking forward to having a full house down at the State Fair," he said.

For more information or to make reservations, call (308) 385-3925 or visit www.statefair.org.

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