Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Deciding the future of the historic Blue Earth County fairgrounds January 8, 2014

The beef barn, shaded by an oak tree.

The beef and other barns are circled by aged oaks.

IN THE SHADE OF AGED OAKS sprawling along the banks of the Watonwan River in Garden City, agricultural buildings stretched long and lean as my husband and I drove through the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds on a July morning.

I was enamored with this charming and historic place, where buildings are labeled BEEF, SHEEP, POULTRY, FFA, 4-H EXHIBITS…

Just inside the entry to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.

Just inside the entry to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.

For 154 years, folks have come here each summer to celebrate the area’s agricultural roots.

But now this bucolic spot, which so charmed me during that brief drive-through this past July, may no longer serve as the site for Blue Earth County’s fair. The fair board is looking to move the fair within a two-mile radius of nearby Mankato, according to information on the fair website.

 A posting of fair sponsors just inside the front gate.

A posting of fair sponsors just inside the front gate.

Thursday evening, Blue Earth County Fair Association shareholders meet at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato to discuss the future of the fair, supported in the past by rural sponsors like Crystal Valley Coop, Watonwan Farm Service and the Blue Earth County Farm Bureau.

Shareholders will vote, beginning at 6:20 p.m., on whether to sell the Garden City fairgrounds. I’m not privy to financial details but, according to a story in the Mankato Free Press, the fair has consistently lost money in recent years. The thought is that moving the fair nearer the county’s center of population (Mankato) and adding amenities will increase attendance and better tell the story of agriculture. Click here to read the document, BLUE EARTH COUNTY FAIR: GROUNDS FOR GROWTH.

I expect this membership meeting may be a heated one pitting historians and preservationists against those favoring change, and country folks against city residents. I might be wrong.

If you buy a $5 share, you can vote. Once. There’s no buying multiple shares for multiple votes. Shares are available for purchase yet today (from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. and from 5-7 p.m.) at Busters on Madison Avenue in Mankato. And shares will be sold before the meeting, from 4:45-5:45 p.m. Thursday.

The open class exhibit buildings.

Open class exhibit buildings.

I’m not fully-informed on all sides of the issue. Yet I do know this: When my husband and I wove our way through the fairgrounds in Garden City, I was impressed by the historic character, the nostalgic charm, the quaint old buildings in the beautiful natural setting and the fact that a place like this still exists. There is something to be said for that, for the time-honored tradition of this fair and the pastoral appeal of this land. It is, undeniably, a picturesque place along the Watonwan River, a lovely gathering spot for the generations who have come here each summer to celebrate rural life.

LET’S HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS on the future of the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds. How would you vote? Move the fair to a site closer to Mankato or keep it here, in Garden City?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling