Your in-the-know guide to the 2017 Elkhart County 4-H Fair

The midway is one of the many attractions at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair. (Photo by Marshall V. King)
The midway is one of the many attractions at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair. (Photo by Marshall V. King)

 

By Marshall V. King

GOSHEN — People who have yet to visit the Elkhart County 4-H Fair often say, “Oh, I’ve been to a fair.”

Those who know and love this event respond by saying, “But you haven’t been to this fair.”

The fair in Goshen, which is July 21-29, 2017, has roots on the courthouse lawn, starting in 1851. It’s sometimes erroneously called “the largest county fair in the United States.” It’s not, though it’s one of the biggest, depending on the measure. Over the last decades, it’s become the largest county fair in the state of Indiana and is larger than some state fairs.

More than 183,000 people attended the nine-day event in 2016. (That number is lower than the counts from previous years due to a change on how people are counted.) The 4-H Livestock Auction on the final Friday of the fair raised $1.15 million in 2016, down from the record of $1.3 million the year before.

So how does one tackle an event so big? One step at a time. One bite at a time.

How to get there

There aren’t public transportation options to the fairgrounds, so you’re either walking or using a vehicle — whether it’s two-wheeled or four-wheeled, to get the fairgrounds at 17746 County Road 34. There’s ample parking on the grounds for all types of vehicles, and trams will take you from the parking lots to the gates.

As for the route, a bevy of road construction projects in Goshen have already snarled traffic there and fair week may make it even worse. If you can get there before 4 p.m. most days, you may have better luck, but you may also try coming in from the south on County Road 36 (College Avenue).

How to get in

You can purchase tickets online and at 51 locations around the area before the fair begins. Prior to July 21, tickets are $6 each and vouchers for the wristband days allowing unlimited rides are $20. Once the fair begins, they’ll be available online and at the fair for $8/$25.

The animals

One of the biggest attractions at the fair are all the animals. Thousands of 4-H animals fill barns and will be part of contests ranging from showmanship to rooster crowing. Most of the animals will be sold in the 4-H auction on Friday, July 28, and then be gone, so if you’re an animal lover, it’s best to go on the first seven days of the fair. (In addition, thousands of 4-H exhibits are in the Elkhart County Community Center on the north side of the grounds.) They will also have a reveal of the ferplast pig cage and some of the best sized pigs in town.

In addition, you can see the K9 Crew Trick Dog Show throughout the fair, visit the Miracle of Life Calving Center, and the Young McDonald’s Farm.

The rides

North American Midway Entertainment brings carnival games and rides to the fair, where they’re set up and inspected regularly for safety. This year, a new, bigger roller coaster will change the layout and offer a different option, said Kristy Ambrosen, the fair’s marketing manager.

Wristband days offering unlimited rides for a flat fee are popular and take place on July 21, 24, 27 and 29. A Kiddieland wristband is $12 on July 26, which is Kids’ Day at the fair.

The food

Soft ice cream is one of the joys of the Elkhart County 4-H Fair. (Photo by Marshall V. King)
Soft ice cream is one of the joys of the Elkhart County 4-H Fair. (Photo by Marshall V. King)

Around 100 food booths, ranging from drink stands shaped like a root beer barrel to open-air buildings with dozens of seats, offer food and drinks at the fair. Many non-profit groups, including 4-H clubs, sell food at the fair to raise money for scholarships and charitable causes. Professional vendors offer fried foods and just about anything you can imagine on a stick. Grilled meat is plentiful, including the famous Nelson’s chicken. One of the best bargains is the grilled cheese sandwich at the two Dairy Bars.

Commercial booths

Hundreds of folks selling windows, garden tractors and trinkets will be in several commercial buildings and at outside booths. The buildings are generally open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., though hours vary by day.

Entertainment

The Elkhart County fair takes pride in offering free grandstand shows, though you can buy reserved seats for concerts. This year’s lineup includes Loverboy, Dustin Lynch and Martina McBride. Other grandstand events include a Demolition Derby, tractor pull and harness races.

A stage in Heritage Park will also feature local entertainers.

Contests

The fair has a vast range of contests, from the Parade 5000 5K to who can cut the longest apple peel. Local fire departments will compete in a challenge that is new this year.

How to find out more

The fair has a robust website at 4hfair.org, a mobile app and radio broadcasts will be streaming online for the first time this year. You may want to plan ahead rather than rely on your phone since getting a signal at the fair can be challenging due to the size of the crowds.

 


Marshall V. King is a freelance writer and journalist from Goshen, Ind., who has been covering the Elkhart County 4-H Fair since 1993.


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