The Crow Wing County Fair is back after taking a year off due to the pandemic and is expected to be better than ever, with a special unveiling set on the first day of the fair.

The county fair kicks off Tuesday, Aug. 3, and runs through Saturday, Aug. 7, at the Crow Wing County Fairgrounds in Brainerd. This will be the 148th year the county fair has been in existence, as the first fair was in 1872 in Brainerd. Fairs in Crow Wing County then were hosted sporadically in Brainerd, Pequot Lakes and Crosby until 1937, when it became organized and permanently located in Brainerd. The fair moved to a few locations in Brainerd before settling in 1962 to where the fair sits now off 13th Street Southeast, near the Pepsi Cola Bottling plant.

Each year, thousands of people flock to the Crow Wing County Fair, which has been called one of the top five county fairs in the state, fair officials stated. This year’s fair will offer all the traditions people have come to love: their favorite fair foods including cheese curds, walking tacos and fried elephant ears; plenty of farm animals like rabbits, goats, cows and horses; and the north side of the fair for the fun carnival rides and games.

“There is something for everyone here at the county fair,” General Manager Gary Doucette said.

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Doucette said the county fair board of directors works hard every year to make improvements to the fairgrounds to make it look nice and inviting to all. This year, fairgoers will see plenty of colorful updates as artist Molly Mae Krautkremer painted a mural scene featuring rolling hills, farmland and sunflowers on the walls of the Mills Free Stage at the fairgrounds.

Executive/Artistic Director Lisa Jordan of The Crossing Arts Alliance said Crossing Arts received a Five Wings Arts Council grant to commission an agriculturally themed mural by Krautkremer.

“We thought her style would be a terrific fit for the venue,” Jordan said. “She made a tranquil scene that will provide a beautiful backdrop for the on-stage entertainment. Molly Mae has worked in set design and has a strong following of her work, but this is her largest project to date. Crossing Arts is proud to have facilitated this opportunity and look forward to fair week when thousands of visitors will get to admire the finished piece.”

One of the murals done by artists from The Crossing Arts Alliance is a sunflower scene painted on one of the outbuildings near the administration building.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
One of the murals done by artists from The Crossing Arts Alliance is a sunflower scene painted on one of the outbuildings near the administration building. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Working from a sketch provided by Krautkremer, the Crossing Arts staff - Jordan, Molly Koop and Maren Friemann - painted a lively large-scale sunflower scene on one of the outbuildings near the administration building. The three each completed a sunflower study and jointly decided which elements to incorporate from each piece into the mural. Each artist "signed" the piece by painting a signature bee in the mural.

“I didn’t expect any of this,” Doucette said of the mural paintings. “These are beautiful and add nice color here at the fairgrounds.”

Doucette, like many, is excited the fair is a go this year, after canceling the annual event last year because of the pandemic.

“I can't even describe it,” Doucette said. “Everybody who I've talked to, especially from other fairs have had record-breaking attendance. We want to make up for lost time so we're doing ... some new things for people when they come here. I know we can't make up for last year and I know there were a lot of people who were angry, but what I can say was that it wasn't for a lack of trying. Once the Minnesota State Fair shut down, it was inevitable that we had to do so.

“We can only say I'm sorry for last year but this year, come on back and we're going to give you a good show.”

General Manager Gary Doucette of the Crow Wing County Fair talks Tuesday, July 27, about a special unveiling ceremony scheduled Tuesday, Aug. 3, for this mile marker that was created to honor Walt Straka and others who were part of the Bataan Death March. Straka died July 4, 2021, at age 101 and was Minnesota's last living survivor of the Bataan. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
General Manager Gary Doucette of the Crow Wing County Fair talks Tuesday, July 27, about a special unveiling ceremony scheduled Tuesday, Aug. 3, for this mile marker that was created to honor Walt Straka and others who were part of the Bataan Death March. Straka died July 4, 2021, at age 101 and was Minnesota's last living survivor of the Bataan. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Right off the bat, when the fair opens Tuesday during Military Day, Doucette said they will have a special unveiling ceremony for a mile marker honoring Walt Straka. Straka died July 4, 2021, at age 101 and was Minnesota's last living survivor of the Bataan Death March. He was one of 64 men from the 194th Tank Battalion, which left Brainerd to go to the Philippines just months before the attack of Pearl Harbor. His unit was ordered to surrender with the fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942.

Doucette said skilled craftsmen from the BNSF equipment shop in Brainerd donated their time and materials to create an exact replica of the Bataan Death March mile marker that will make its home at the fairgrounds. Doucette said there was a mile marker for every mile going up the peninsula on the main Philippines island of Luzon, where 10,000 soldiers perished.

“This is going to be the first of its kind in the United States,” Doucette said of this project, which was set in motion four years ago. “We’re pretty excited about this and it will be revealed on Military Day after the presentation of the colors behind the Mills Free Stage.

“This is pretty impressive. ... We wish it could have been completed last year for Walt to see, but COVID slowed down the process. We know Walt would have been proud of it and his family is proud of it and this honors all the soldiers of the Bataan Death March.”

Doucette said the community really stepped up to the plate to make this mile marker a reality as many businesses donated their time and resources to make it happen.

General Manager Gary Doucette talks Tuesday, July 27, about some of the highlights of the upcoming Crow Wing County Fair. The fair opens Tuesday, Aug. 3 at the fairgrounds in southeast Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
General Manager Gary Doucette talks Tuesday, July 27, about some of the highlights of the upcoming Crow Wing County Fair. The fair opens Tuesday, Aug. 3 at the fairgrounds in southeast Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“We’re truly blessed,” Doucette said. “Sometimes we can get frustrated with each other but when it comes time for something like this, everybody pulls together. ... A lot of effort went into this by a lot of people.”

New this year at the fair will be Steve Weagel, glassblowing artist and teacher, with Bruce Nelson, who will perform live demonstrations each day at the fair by the administration building. There also will be two chain saw artists - Ben and Dylan Semler - demonstrating their skills at the fair.

“We will have a new beer garden over by the Mills Free Stage so people can enjoy a beverage and enjoy the music,” Doucette said. “And then over by the grandstand area we will have a beer garden during the grandstand events.”

Doucette is excited to be bringing back the demolition derby, which hasn’t been a part of the fair for years. Doucette, who describes himself as a motor head, said it will be a great family event Wednesday in the grandstands.

There will be no medallion hunt this year. Fair organizers decided in 2019 to replace the medallion hunt with a drawing to offer more prizes to more people, instead of just the one person who found the medallion. Each day at the fair, people can enter their name into a drawing for a chance to win a $250 gift certificate donated to the fair by local businesses.

Doucette said the same organizations will have food booths this year, including the Elks, the Eagles, Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, United Methodist Church and Kiwanis.

“A lot of fairs don’t have these old food booths anymore and I think this makes us special when it comes to our fair,” Doucette said. “If you go away from here hungry that’s your own fault.”

Margaret Becker, food service director at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, talks with Gary Doucette, the general manager of the Crow Wing County Fair, Tuesday, July 27, about how things were going getting the building ready for the fair. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Margaret Becker, food service director at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, talks with Gary Doucette, the general manager of the Crow Wing County Fair, Tuesday, July 27, about how things were going getting the building ready for the fair. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Margaret Becker, food service director at Teen Challenge, has been busy at the fairgrounds getting their building ready.

“We revamped the whole thing,” Becker said of their building setup. “We painted the floor and the walls and made it look nice and more efficient. People don’t realize how much work goes into this. It’s actually like opening a restaurant and we hit the road running with a new crew every year. We have about 100 volunteers that come back every year. We have about six or so people per shift.”

Becker said their battered french fries are the most popular item on the menu, and they also have a Hellfire burger with jalapenos and pepper jack cheese and the Challenge burger, which is a double cheeseburger, among many other burgers.

Becker said she ordered 3,400 burgers for the fair week and may have to order more if need be.

Free Stage entertainment

  • Tuesday, Military Day: Oak Street Chapel from 1-3:30 p.m.; opening ceremonies with parade of colors at 5:30 p.m.; and Darlene & the Boys, 6-10 p.m.

  • Wednesday, Senior Day: Great Northern Model T Club and The Old Homestead Power Tractor Club parade at 10:30 a.m.; Senior Day recognition at noon; Vern Bishop & Moose River Band, 1-4:30 p.m.; and Alan Godage Band, 6-10 p.m.

  • Thursday, Agriculture Day: Doug Allen Nash from 1-3:30 p.m.; kids pedal pull at 4 p.m.; Wyld Ryce, 6-10 p.m.

  • Friday, Teen Day & Talent Contest: Pre-teen talent contest at 11 a.m.; teen talent contest at 1 p.m.; open class talent contest at 3 p.m.; Arena, 7-10 p.m.

  • Saturday, Aug. 6, Kids Day: Dig for coins and racing derby, 10 a.m., curling building; Miss Brainerd Lakes princess, 2 p.m.; 4-H dog exhibition, 3-4 p.m.; Ray’s Promenaders, 4:30-6 p.m.; and Wayne Renn Band, 7-10 p.m.

Grandstand events begin at 7 p.m.

  • Tuesday — “Dirt Kickin’ Wicked Good” bull riding with barrel racing.

  • Wednesday — Demolition derby.

  • Thursday — Motocross.

  • Friday and Saturday, Aug. 6-7 — Baja rally races.

Jennifer may be reached at jennifer.kraus@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5851. Follow her at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.