It was a week of corn dogs, rodeos, carnival rides, vendors and animal judging. Families from all over the state were ready to get out of the house and enjoy the big event before school begins – and attendance at the fair indicated they were ready for some normalcy.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Wyoming State Fair saw a strong increase in gate attendance of about 110% above last year, though final numbers are still being compiled. WSF officials were overjoyed at the turnout during a pandemic when some events – the few not cancelled or postponed anyway – have seen attendance drop 50% or more this summer.
“We are so thankful for everyone who came to the fair this year,” WSF Director Courtny Conkle said. “We were holding our breath until the gates opened and wondered if people were willing to come out.”
Not only did gate attendance see a 110% increase in numbers, the fair more than doubled the attendance revenue of 2019.
“We are so excited,” Conkle said. “It was a goal that we had when I came on board last year. We didn’t expect to hit it this year, especially with a pandemic.”
Conkle and her team implemented a number of changes to the fair which seemed successful according to fairgoers. One big change was the carnival. Crabtree Entertainment pulled its contract at the last minute.
Conkle quickly found Carnival Midway Attractions, which eagerly stepped in after seeing many of its usual venues closed.
“Carnival sales were up by more than 40% this year,” Conkle effused.
“We loved the carnival,” Douglas’ Kim Himle said. “All of the kids, even the teenagers, have a lot to do this year at the fair. It feels more family oriented this year.”
Another big change was relocating the carnival from the parking lot behind the grandstands to the grassy area next to the midway where the carnival had been for years in the past.
“The carnival workers have been awesome,” Himle said.
Bobby Himle added, “It’s the best new area at the fair.”
The Platte River Saloon on the midway in the building previously used for the Made in Wyoming store was another big hit with parents.
“I’m glad they didn’t have the beer garden this year,” Lynn Wagner said, noting the location was perfect. “If I wanted to go to the bar, I would go to a bar. It’s nice that we can enjoy a drink and still be able to see our kids having fun.”
The new saloon had a stage with tables and chairs in the back so families could sit, enjoy live music and relax.
The fair welcomed many new vendors this year, and many were optimistic at the beginning of the week and seemed just as happy as the final day rolled around Saturday.
“So many vendors thanked us for being able to put on the fair this year,” Conkle said. “For many of them this has been their first event since February or March and may be their only event for the rest of the year.”
Only three states across the nation will be hosting a state fair, with Delaware the first on July 21 to Aug. 8.
“We had our fair and South Dakota is having theirs Sept. 3-7,” Conkle said. “It feels like the whole state was ready for the fair.”
Attendance at the PRCA rodeo was up from last year and the demolition derby, a favorite event for many, had an increase by 100 people.
Some issues with admissions to events was brought up to Conkle who says that her team will be working on implementing new changes and overhauling that part of the fair for next year, but that was minor in comparison to what might have happened given everything else.
“We have a wonderful team and the state fair board of directors and entire staff want to make the Wyoming State Fair the best,” Conkle said.
“There’s a certain amount of magic that was felt at the fair this year.”