Although the 149th SEMO District Fair starts today, Arena Park has been bustling with activity for the last week while volunteers and workers made sure tents were pitched, fencing was in place and the rides and concession stands were ready for business.
On Friday, concession stands were being sprayed down and cleaned with water and amusement rides were given test runs, while inside the Arena Building, commercial exhibitors were setting up their booths.
"It's going really well," fair board president Pete Poe said. "The weather has been very cooperative and the vendors are all in a good mood and are ready to get going."
The SEMO District Fair is the third largest fair is Missouri, behind the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia and the Ozark Empire Fair in Springfield, both of which have full-time fair staffs, unlike the SEMO District Fair, which is staffed by volunteers.
Spread out over 105 acres in Arena Park, the fair uses 25 trash barrels, 42 portable toilets and contains 59 tents, 106 outdoor vendors and 28 amusement rides.
In addition to the large assortment of vendors and rides, the fair will offer many other attractions for young and old and everyone in between. While many of these attractions will be familiar to those who attended past fairs, this year's fair offers quite an important new attraction -- free parking.
Last year it cost fairgoers $3 to park in the designated parking lots around Arena Park. This year fairgoers will be able to park for free in the Kingsway, Hawthorne and Broadview parking areas operated by the fair.
Poe said the fair board decided to stop charging for parking because it caused problems. To avoid paying the parking fee, people would park illegally outside the designated parking areas, including in private driveways.
The fair board also decided to make parking easier by supplying trolleys that will transport people free of charge from the Kingsway and Hawthorne parking lots to the fair gates after 12 p.m. on weekends and 4 p.m weekdays.
While the parking may be free this year, the admission prices have gone up to $4 for adults and children over 12 years of age. Children under 12 years of age get into the fair free of charge. A weekly pass costs $25.
Once inside the fair's gates, you will have to pay for the rides and concession stands, as well as the grandstand events, but there is also entertainment to enjoy free of charge. All the events that take place in the activities tent on the north side of Arena Park are free, as is the Wild World of Animals display on the south side of the park, the livestock exhibits and the competitive and commercial exhibits inside the Arena Building.
The activities tent is where the SEMO Fair beauty pageants take place starting at 3 p.m. Tuesday. The site will also be home to baby contests, senior activities, live music, dancing, public speaking and more throughout the eight days of the fair.
The Wild World of Animals is new to the fair this year. It is an educational wildlife show featuring appearances by the exotic python, cobra, alligator and snow leopard -- and the not-so-exotic potbellied pigs, opossums and parrots. Showtimes are 3, 5 and 7 p.m. today, 2, 4 and 6 p.m. Sunday and 5:30, 7 and 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
This year's grandstand events are a mix of animals, music and motorsports.
Today the grandstand will feature an antique tractor pull at 9 a.m. and a tractor-truck pull at 7:30 p.m. Sunday there will be a free pet parade at 1 p.m. followed by a free horse show. A demolition derby takes place at 7:30 p.m. Monday and a four-wheel-drive mud drag is 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
A rather recent addition to the fair, and according to Poe a very popular one, the Heartland Idol Star Search takes place at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and is free of charge. To qualify for Heartland Idol, you must compete in today's karaoke contest held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. in the free activities tent.
Musical entertainment comes to the grandstand Thursday with Leroy Van Dyke, featuring Jimmy Fortune, David Frizzell and Rex Allen Jr. On Sept. 17, Sammy Kershaw will perform and on Sept. 18 will be a updated Three Dog Night that features two of the original members.
And it would not be a fair without livestock, the reason the fair first took place in Cape Girardeau in 1855. Livestock judging starts Wednesday and continues until Sept. 18, when there will also be some special events including a parade of champions.
The heifers are just as integral to the success of the fair as funnel cakes, tilt-a-whirls and grandstand entertainment, Poe said.
"We try not to have any one thing outweigh the other. It's all a balance," he said. "You take the livestock away and you become a festival, you take the rides away and you become a livestock show. It all fits together."
More information on this year's fair is available at www.semofair.com.
335-6611, extension 182