It has been 161 years since the first baseball was thrown at a stack of milk bottles to win a prize, the first prize pig won a blue ribbon, the first group of horsemen squared off in the arena, and the first batch of homemade preserves and pies were presented to a panel of judges.
All of those things and much, much more have become an annual tradition since 1852, when the Lake County Agricultural Society, Inc. presented that first Lake County Fair to promote agriculture in Lake County on the 88 acres of rolling, wooded land just south of the Crown Point Square.
It’s that time of year once again. The official L.C. Fair mascot “Bea - The Honey Bee” will be on the grounds greeting visitors and helping create a “buzz” about all the fun and excitement filling these 10 days of August.
“Bea has been very busy this year already, appearing in parades and at various events,” said Arlene Marcinek, who became the first female Lake County Fair board member in 1988 and its secretary in 2000. “Bea really brands the Lake County Fair. When people start seeing Bea, they know the fair is coming.”
Over the next 10 days, the Lake County Fair offers visitors carnival rides, games of skill and luck, special interest exhibits, a petting zoo, live animals, horse and pony shows, racing pigs, crafters, and of course plenty deep-fried things on a stick (butter, pickles, Snickers, Oreos, etc.) to tantalize taste buds.
“We have a new ride this year that has never been at our fair before,” teased Marcinek, noting that fans of carnival rides would be wise to take advantage of the fair’s “Mega-Ride Pass” which gives pass-holders unlimited rides day or night for the duration of the fair. “It’s $65 and if you plan to come to the fair multiple days and go on a lot of rides it’s really a great deal. There are also the daily wristbands available ($12 Noon to 5 p.m., $20 5 to Closing, or $25 Noon to Closing).
The fair need not be tough to attend despite these being tough economic times, stressed Marcinek. “We still have the ‘free before three’ admission and parking for everyone Monday through Thursday,” she said. There’s also “Senior Day” (free admission for those 62 and older on Monday, Aug. 5), “Special Abilities Day” (on Wednesday, Aug. 7 giving free admission and carnival rides noon to 3 p.m. for a variety of special needs organizations and care groups who call the office in advance for details), and “Pepsi Family Value Day” (on Tuesday, Aug. 6 where redeeming 150 Pepsi or Crush soda cans between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. scores a free Noon to 5 p.m. ride wrist band).
Getting to and from the fair has gotten a little easier for folks who do not drive this year. “On Wednesday (Aug. 7), The North Township Transit Dial-A-Ride, the Gary Public Transit and the East Chicago Transit will make getting to the fair easy and safe by running their routes to Griffith Plaza, where buses will take people to and from the fairgrounds for just $1 a ride,” said Marcinek. “If this works out well this year we may see it expand to more days next year.” The free shuttle service from Crown Point High School (1500 S. Main St. going through the parking lot to the fairgrounds starts each day at noon and runs until the fair closes, allowing relief from the traffic and parking congestion at the fair itself.
“It’s probably the racing pigs,” said Marcinek, when asked what single non-Grandstand event is the most popular with visitors. “Those cute little pigs always draw a big audience for every race. We have a lot of people come every year and stop to see the pigs race every year.”
This summer a new group of speedy swine will be hitting the curves in hopes of winning an Oreo cookie at the finish line. “The ones usually here (Robinson’s Pig Paddling Porkers) that swim and race couldn’t make it this year, so we have a new group who race, but who don’t swim.”
“Hedricks Petting Zoo (sponsored by The Times) has been another very popular attraction since we added it a few years ago,” added Marcinek. “It’s quite the collection of animals. They have all sorts of animals that kids can pet and feed. They even have camel rides.”
The various horse arena events have also drawn big crowds and are all included in the gate admission. “We have people not only from Indiana, but that come from Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois for the horse events, especially the Draft Horses,” said Marcinek. “There are many events at the Horse Arena. There’s the ‘All Breed Classic Horse and Pony Show’ (Tonight thru Aug. 4), ‘The Youth Fun Show’ (Aug. 5), ‘The 4-H Horse and Pony Show’ (8 a.m., Aug. 7), ‘The Draft Horse Show’ (Aug. 7 & 8), and ‘The Western Horse Shows’ (Aug. 9-11).”
People are drawn to the Lake County Fair for both the real horses and the gas-fueled horsepower found at the Grandstand Arena.
Last year “Martin Xtreme Supercross Racing” brought motorcycles back to the fair’s grandstand after many years away. The response was so tremendous, extra days of daredevil racers on motorcycles and quads have been added this summer. “We did Supercross for two days last year and this year we’ve doubled it to four days,” said Marcinek. “The Monster Truck Show is another popular attraction at the Grandstand and there are all new trucks this year and a new show. For the first time, they are bringing mini-monster trucks as part of the show.”
Also returning by popular demand to the grandstand are the Truck & Tractor Pull, the Mug Drags, and the Demolition Derby. All of the grandstand area events feature not only semi-professionals from the touring circuit, but are also open to daring locals who wish to sign up and compete. “They enter down in the pits area the day of the races,” said Marcinek. “It’s open to anyone able to meet the requirements.”
The fair was created and founded on Indiana agriculture and that still plays a big part on the grounds, including the livestock exhibits and 4-H Building activities and exhibits. “Farm Bureau Insurance will present a new interactive exhibit in the Flower Building called ‘From Farm to Fork’ that includes some demonstrations. There are a lot of wonderful demonstrations also in the Industrial Building once again.
Tradition remains true to the rural past of the fairs with many events dating back to the earliest of county fairs, like apple-peeling contests, frog-jumping contests, bean-spitting contests, pie-eating contests, and more.
And live music of all styles – bluegrass to rock to Latin -- can be found at various times in various tents and buildings on the grounds during the course of the fair. For a downloadable full schedule of events and times at the 161st Lake County Fair, visit www.lake-county-fair.com