New barns at the Chippewa Falls fairgrounds replace structures dating back more than 100 years. Also this weekend: No shortage of rumbling from concerts to Harleys.
Kids, cattle, goats, sheep, hogs, llamas, and alpacas all have some shiny new digs at this year’s Northern Wisconsin State Fair.
The $7 million overhaul at the fairgrounds in Chippewa Falls includes a new agriculture campus, which consists of five new multipurpose buildings–two cattle barns, a show arena, a small animal barn, and a FEMA safe room.
“I’m excited for the young kids who are going to come and see this!” said Rusty Volk, executive director at the fair. “And for the grandparents who will be bringing their grandchildren.”
The fair’s iconic Red Barn coliseum showcased youth and their animals for more than 100 years. But after a roof collapse in 2019, it had to be torn down. Now in its place is the Custer Coliseum. The show arena is named for local donor, Ken Custer and his family, of Custer Farms and their two subsidiaries.
“He had a tear in his eye and I had a tear in mine when we made the deal,” Volk, who has roots in dairy farming, said.
Five Things That Set the Northern Wisconsin State Fair Apart
Volk said the Northern Wisconsin State Fair (NWSF) has a lot of activity for the small acreage. “I like to call it a small town fair with a big fair scenario, because it’s jam-packed.”
Besides the new ag campus, here are five things that set the NWSF apart.
Pig Pals, hosted by the NWSF Meat Animal Program, allows youth with special needs in showing swine in the show ring, alongside youth mentors.
Eighteen-year-old mentor Kennedy Kuehni of Boyd and the Edson Hilltop 4-H Club, said it gives the participants an opportunity to groom, feed, rename, and then show a hog.
“To see their reactions and reactions of family members, it’s definitely an amazing opportunity.”
“I love being included,” said 18-year-old Sam Steffes of Cadott.
Steffes, who named his pig “Sprinkles” said, “Last year it gave me confidence. I love being included. My friends and I get to work with the mentors and meet new new friends.”
Live Great Food
Live Great Food sources produce and animals raised locally. While a crew of four manned the truck at the fair, Live Great’s owner was down the midway at the Custer Coliseum bidding on animals at the fair’s Meat Animal Program Auction to one day use in the truck.
Pig, Duck, and Goat Races
Don’t miss seeing “Dale Swinehart” and his friends from Sheboygan County’s Pleasure Valley Farm tear up their miniature racetrack. Larry Laux said he starts training the animals in June.
“They learn the faster they run around the track, the faster they’ll get a treat!”
With a chuckle, Laux said the animals act like kids, “They sometimes get all the way around the track, and then turn around, and then you don’t know which way they’re going.”
For its 125th anniversary celebration year, Volk wanted the entertainment to be elevated. He said one of the headliners, Grammy and Billboard award-winning rapper and singer, Nelly, has been sold-out for months.
Cotton Candy Cupcake
Possibly the most colorful and sweetest looking treat at the NWSF, the Cotton Candy Cupcake is made in Rice Lake at Simply Cake Couture. It’s a “vibrant cotton candy-flavored cupcake topped with cotton candy buttercream, and homemade cotton candy fudge.”
Why Are There ‘Other’ State Fairs in Wisconsin?
This is the 125th Northern Wisconsin State Fair. Its origins are rooted in distance—it was asking a lot for exhibitors from up north to travel all the way to the Wisconsin State Fair in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis, so other fairs were created for exhibitions and judging.
There’s the Central Wisconsin State Fair in Marshfield, the La Crosse Interstate Fair, and other fairs that don’t use the “county fair” moniker—like Wisconsin Valley Fair at the Marathon County fairgrounds, the Rock County 4-H Fair and the Rusk County Junior Fair. The Wisconsin Association of Fairs maintains a calendar so you can always find out which fairs are going on closest to you.
First Fairs, then Festivals
Wisconsin summer weekends are also becoming famous for large-venue music festivals. This weekend, the Northern Wisconsin State Fair is competing with Rock Fest, north of Cadott. There’s also Country Boom in West Salem, and a massive gathering of motorcyclists at this year’s Harley Davidson 120th anniversary Homecoming in Milwaukee, featuring shows from Foo Fighters and Green Day.
It’s About the Kids
Education has always played a role in state fairs and county fairs across Wisconsin. That remains the case in Chippewa County with its new agriculture buildings.
“We want kids to be aware of what farmers do,” Volk said. “This will always be used for youth education in agriculture.”
“We feel the ag community is getting older and fewer youth are getting involved in agronomy,” said Ken Custer’s son, Darryl. “We wanted to do the best we could to promote the farming industry.”
Darryl Custer said this is his dad’s passion and the project is meaningful to his family. “When he was my age, farming wasn’t great, so at this point, to be able to give back, means so much.”
The new coliseum is air conditioned and heated, and will host agricultural programs each month as it can be utilized throughout the year.
The only structure not quite completed is the FEMA community safe room, a 4,500 square-foot concrete building that is meant to provide protection to community members in times of extreme weather events like tornadoes. FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security awarded the NWSF about $800,000 in grants for the structure. It will also be multipurpose with restrooms.
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