For 12 years, the Nebraska State Fair has resided in Grand Island with a vision “to become Nebraska’s most loved and anticipated celebration of agriculture, entertainment, and education”.
When is the Nebraska State Fair? Aug. 26 – Sep. 5, 2022
Where is the Nebraska State Fair? Fonner Park in Grand Island, Nebraska
For thousands of Nebraskans, the State Fair provides a platform and stage to showcase their way of life and what makes Nebraska “Nebraska”. The first-time fair goer may be drawn by the fried food and live shows.
But after a few steps onto the Nebraska State Fair Grounds, it’s easy to see there’s so much more than what meets the eye.
Stop by 37-year vendor, the Nebraska Writers Guild, to chat with Nebraska authors and stock up on new reads for the avid book lover.
Capture the essence and nostalgia of the fair and Nebraska historic culture at Wild Bob’s Old Time Portraits before getting your fill of funnel cake at King’s Funnel Cakes, which has been feeding fair visitors for an astounding 43 years.
These are just three of the hundreds of booths to see, before setting your site on livestock exhibits and the carnival.
It’s clear to see that everywhere you look, Nebraska culture can be explored and enjoyed from past to present.
Several cities throughout Nebraska have had the honor and privilege of hosting the Nebraska State Fair.
- Nebraska City
- Grand Island
In 1868, one of the most influential parts of Nebraska culture, The State Fair, began in Nebraska City, a town of 7,000 people about 50 miles away from Lincoln.
With exhibits from 4-H, The Future Farmers of America, livestock showings, and entertainment opportunities for everyone to enjoy; the Nebraska State Fair quickly became the talk of the midwest.
At a rapid pace, the fair outgrew its home in Nebraska City and moved to the Omaha metro area, which again was quickly outgrown.
Iconic Fonner Park
The fair finally found a home in Lincoln for over a century, but another change was on the horizon. Due to the construction of UNL’s innovation campus, the fair was moved to the iconic Fonner Park in Grand Island, where the fair continues to reside today.
The people of Grand Island fought tooth and nail to become the fair’s new home, and once they won the fight, Fonner Park became the new home of the Nebraska State Fair.
Through the transition, the fair continued to draw in locals and foreigners alike with its attractions, but more importantly, its dedication to agricultural education for all ages is the true heart of the fair.
The Nebraska Lottery Plays a Vital Role
Contrary to popular belief, those thousands of people that enter the fair every year are just a small percentage of what monetarily keeps the fair running. The Nebraska Lottery is where the State of Nebraska contributes to this annual event.
Along with gate and vendor admissions, these three streams comprise a small part of the fair’s budget.
Donations from local businesses, big and small, also play a large role in keeping the tradition of the fair alive and its dedication to agricultural education unchanged.
Tourism By The Numbers
Over the past 12 years, since making its home in Grand Island, the fair has created quite a name for itself, growing to be one of the main worldwide attractions for the Midwest. In 2021, over 11 days, 266,245 guests set foot on State Fair Boulevard to enjoy the various attractions the fair has to offer. The 200,000+ people that attended the 2021 State Fair hailed from 23 states and 10 countries from around the globe. In attendance were 17 individuals from Germany who specifically came to the United States to experience the State Fair.
- 200,000 people attended the 2021 Nebraska State Fair
- Visitors traveled from 23 different states
- State fair attendees from 10 countries were in attendance
Tracy Winkler, a digital strategist with 316 Strategy Group in downtown Grand Island, says the impact on the tri-cities area is immeasurable. “The economic impact these eleven days have on Grand Island, Kearney, Hastings, and surrounding communities is immeasurable.” Winkler said, “The Nebraska State Fair helps local businesses right here in our community.”
“The economic impact these eleven days have on Grand Island, Kearney, Hastings, and surrounding communities is immeasurable.” ~ Tracy Gardner, 316 Strategy Group
In 2019, it was reported that the Nebraska State Fair generated an estimated $38,000,000 in economic impact annually to the city of Grand Island. The local and regional hotel and retail industry benefits as fairgoers stay and shop while visiting Nebraska State Fair. As an iconic 150-year-old brand, the Nebraska State Fair is a valuable part of the state’s identity that serves as a future catalyst for tourism, statewide education, and rural-urban connectivity.
Andrew Winkler is the General Manager of Chief Carriers, a flatbed trucking company in Grand Island. Winkler understands the impact the state fair has on the local economy. “The Nebraska State Fair gives attendees the opportunity to appreciate the full scope of agriculture in Nebraska and how it continues to shape our rich heritage.” Chief is a premium sponsor of the 2022 Nebraska State Fair.
The City of Nice
What made these travelers feel like they were locals was Grand Island and her hometown tour guides rolling out the red carpet and kindness while holding to being called “The City of Nice”.
These fair-goers said, “We didn’t deserve the generosity we received”, which is another testament to the state of Nebraska and why the fair isn’t just a fair. It’s a constant desire of people wanting to proudly share their history, expertise, passion, and culture with others.
To execute the numerous exhibits the Nebraska State Fair holds, volunteers are an integral part of the fair’s success. Courtney Glock, the Volunteer Coordinator, has big plans for the 2022 State Fair, stating “My goal is at least 600 volunteers, bringing forth 10,000 hours of volunteering at this year’s fair”. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteer recruitment was steadily increasing every year. However, after the pandemic struck, there has been a major struggle in volunteer recruitment and retention to return to pre-COVID rates.
State Fair Volunteer Goals for 2022:
- 600+ volunteers
- 10,000+ hours of volunteering
In 2019, there were 938 volunteers accumulating over 15,687 hours towards the fair’s success. In 2021, 659 helpers contributed just north of 10,000 hours of volunteer time. The goal for this year is to reignite those levels of dedication and excitement towards the fair by retaining seasoned volunteers while also adding new friendly faces to the roster.
Volunteering at the Nebraska State Fair is a volunteer experience unlike anything else. It is interactive, fun, and fast-paced and those who donate their time make a tremendous impact not just on the attendees, vendors, exhibitors, and State Fair faculty and staff; but on the city of Grand Island and the State of Nebraska.
An event of this size, magnitude, and duration would not be possible or feasible without an army of energetic and dedicated volunteers. Glock says “Depending on the number of hours donated, one can earn State Fair apparel and swag. And if someone contributes over twenty hours of their time, they receive free meal vouchers to use at the fair. Small tokens of appreciation for our wonderful volunteers!”.
It’s not only the physical incentives that keep volunteers interested, it’s the interactions on the fairgrounds that make the biggest impact.
Veteran volunteer, Doug Drudik, has put in over 100 hours of work yearly while also coding a website for volunteers in the information booths. When asked what keeps him coming back every year, he responded, “During the fair, it’s the interactions with the visitors that I enjoy the most, I typically volunteer at information kiosks and the visitors that approach me are usually happy and upbeat, especially when I have the answer to their question”.
For other members of the community such as Jerry Petermann, another long-time volunteer, it was a dedication to the city of Grand Island as a whole. Jerry said, “Grand Island fought for the Fair to be relocated here and succeeded, and the city and surrounding areas will need to continue to apply that same effort each year to keep it going strong. And people will need to step forward to assist the Fair staff. It takes a village!”.
“Grand Island fought for the Fair to be relocated here and succeeded, and the city and surrounding areas will need to continue to apply that same effort each year to keep it going strong. ~ Jerry Petermann, Nebraska State Fair Volunteer
With so much happening at the fair from sunup to sundown, every year it continues to be all hands on deck to make the Nebraska State Fair a smashing success and fun for all. Between commercial vendors, concession vendors, and concerts; there are plenty of sites to see and activities to pack into eleven days of fair-going.
Vendors Keep Coming Back
The Deputy Executive Director of the State Fair, Jamie Parr, says “A balance between old and new vendors keeps people coming back”.
Commercial vendors, which are businesses that will lease or rent services or products, can be found inside the 4-H/FFA building on the northwest corner of the fairgrounds.
Inside you will find long-standing vendors such as ABC Seamless and John Deere who have been commercial vendors for thirty-four years, but also new vendors like Honor & Respect, a veteran-owned and operated athletic shoe and apparel company that returns profits to organizations that help first responders and military members.
All over the fairgrounds, entrepreneurs and business owners are excited to share their products and services with visitors throughout the eleven-day event.
If you’re a foodie visiting the fair, going to Tacos Los Hermanos for some birria tacos or Dole Whip Nachos from Hawaiian Chill should be your first stop.
If taste-testing all the delicious fair food isn’t your thing, and you love an adrenaline rush and something out of the ordinary for fair rides, the fair has something perfect for you.
Nebraska State Fair attendees can cool off with shaved ice from Made It Myself shaved ice who are just babies at the Nebraska State Fair with their 4th appearance. Its sister company Master’s Hand also has the distinct honor of earning the title of the 2020 World’s Best Cinnamon Rolls. If you’re lucky, they’ll be serving cinnamon rolls too!
This year the Nebraska State Fair will have VR Game Truck Nebraska, which is a state-of-the-art virtual reality experience with five PlayStation virtual reality stations, six Oculus stations, a VR racing station, and a flight simulator. They also provide a vast library of Playstation, Xbox, Nintendo Wii/Wii U, and Switch games, so everyone can find something they enjoy!
Nebraska Realty manager, Michael Rivera, is no stranger to music and entertainment, Michael appreciates the longstanding tradition of top acts & live performances at the Nebraska State Fair. As a former DJ, Rivera understands the economic impact these entertainers have on his hometown of Grand Island.
The 2022 Nebraska State Fair lineup of live entertainment:
- Flo Rida with Priscilla Block
- Brantley Gilbert
- Jeff Dunham
- Los Tucanes de Tijuana
Something almost every State Fair Staff member will get asked in the months leading up to the fair is “Oh you work at the State Fair, who’s performing this year?”.
The lineup of live entertainment this year is sure to please with a wide variety of acts performing during the duration of the fair. From Flo Rida with Priscilla Block to Brantley Gilbert for the country music fan, to a show that is drawing the most attention to fair-goers is Jeff Dunham who will be live on night seven of the fair.
At the Nebraska State Fair, the opportunities are endless when it comes to experiences to enjoy and share with friends and family!
With so much to see and do, the seasoned fair patron would suggest planning a multi-day venture, as experiencing it during the day is vastly different from the feeling of the Nebraska State Fair on a hot summer’s night. Passes are available to purchase for multiple days of admission onto the fairgrounds.
The Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island has so much to offer, from experiences with family and friends to giving youths the ability to share their passion for their home state and its culture. No matter what reason you end up at the Nebraska State Fair, locals will embrace you with open arms and make your 11 days in the “City of Nice” an experience you will never forget.
The Nebraska State Fair is a grand tradition. Go experience it.