MONROE - The Monroe County Fair Association has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last few years to improve the facilities at the Monroe County Fairgrounds.
The volunteer organization has built Glen Stock Arena, for example, and moved and improved the grandstand, and this year even rebuilt the baseball diamond that hosts the annual fair tournament for area youths.
As the 54th Annual Monroe County Fair kicks off its annual week-long run on Sunday, Fair Director Warren Siebarth is touting what has proven to be an expensive addition.
The fairgrounds' new $240,000, 2,600-square-foot bathroom is sure to be appreciated by most of the 160,000 people expected to walk through the gates next week.
“It's just to relieve the pressure off other parts of the fairgrounds - to get away from the [approximately 20 portable toilets] we had out there,” Mr. Siebarth said.
The new restroom facility answers one of the fairgrounds' most glaring deficiencies in recent years, and is modern enough to feature such items as shower facilities and baby changing stations.
It is designed to be flexible, Mr. Siebarth said, and can serve both grandstand patrons and those elsewhere on the grounds without intermingling the two.
Its $240,000 cost is a full 60 percent higher than fair board members had originally estimated, but the project proceeded anyway, Mr. Siebarth said, because it was needed so badly.
It is also the last of the big-ticket improvements that are likely to be made to the grounds for the next few years.
“I think what we're going to concentrate on after this year is some good preventative maintenance. With the new grandstand and the new bathrooms, a lot of other maintenance issues have not been dealt with,” the fair director said.
The new restroom facility is just the latest in a series of improvements to the grounds of what has easily become one of the most popular events of the summer in Monroe County.
The Monroe County Fair continues to grow in both attendance and number of exhibitors, to remain one of the most popular of such events anywhere in Michigan.
In 2000, more than 165,000 visitors passed through the fairgrounds' turnstiles near the intersection of M-50 and South Raisinville Road. And with even more 4-H exhibits already entered this year, Mr. Siebarth said he expects that number to climb slightly.
The county remains number one in the state and one of the biggest across the nation in the number of 4-H exhibitors, with its more than 23,000 entrants in such wide-ranging fields as livestock, vegetables, art, and dried flowers, said Judy See, Monroe County 4-H Youth Agent.
In addition to the action in the grandstand and in the livestock, craft, and vegetable judging, this year's fair will once again feature a host of other entertainment and amusements, including concerts, clowns, rides, and a chainsaw art exhibition.
“I don't know where they put all those animals, frankly. They must double-deck them,” he said.
The annual appearance of at least one country-music superstar continues to draw thousands to the fair, and this year should be no exception as Kenny Rogers brings his act to the fairgrounds on Monday night. Opening up the show, which starts at 8 p.m. will be Linda Davis.
This year's fair also will feature some new entertainment offerings.
On five of the fair's seven nights, motor sports of one form or another will roar to life in the grandstand area.
The annual Demolition Derby will once again return to its annual position as the Tuesday night anchor, while two nights of tractor pulling will fill the grandstands on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
A monster truck show anchors Friday night, while Supercross motorcycle races, will be featured on Saturday night.
While continued reconstruction of M-50 continues to be a concern, Mr. Siebarth said he has received assurances from the Michigan Department of Transportation and the contractor that the intersection of M-50 and South Raisinville will be open by this weekend.
Monroe County officials are suggesting fair patrons take an alternate route to the fairgrounds if possible to avoid traffic backups and potential delays.
Admission to the fair is $4 for adults, $2 for seniors, and $1 for children aged 6 to 11. Children under 5 are admitted free with their parents.
Parking is free, and a shuttle service is available from the parking lot at Monroe County Community College.