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2012 Illinois State Fair Begins Thursday!


Butter Cow Illinois State Fair“Family Fun For Everyone!”  That is the theme for the 2012 Illinois State Fair, which begins Thursday, August 9 and continues through Sunday, August 19.  Think about it – summer is winding down and the kids are getting ready to go back to school (or in some cases, starting school for the first time).  You’re looking for one last trip to take as a family before everything gets crazy in a few weeks.  Why not plan a trip to Harpole’s Heartland Lodge and take in the state fair festivities at the same time?  Heartland is less than 80 miles from the fairgrounds and what better way to finish out the summer? 

The Illinois State Fair is, and always has been, a HUGE event in Springfield, Illinois.  Growing up in central Illinois, I had the opportunity to work at the state fair for two summers when I was in high school (I won’t tell you how long ago that’s been).  My state fair employment was actually through the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service and even though my involvement was with the 4-H exhibit check-in, it allowed me the opportunity to experience a side of fair life that most fairgoers never see and was truly an experience that I’ll never forget.

I’m sure the fair has changed over the many years since my summer job there and so I went online at to find out what’s new and exciting and what’s tried and true. You can also check out their Illinois State Fair Facebook Page.  Of course, some of my favorites are still a huge part of the fair experience but I can see that they have added several new features and I’m disappointed that Dan and I can’t make it to Springfield this year and check it out.  But I’ve already looked at the dates for next year and you can too as the website has the dates posted out through 2014.  Mark your calendars now!

As some of you may know, the state fair emphasizes Illinois agriculture and has become one of the largest agricultural fairs in the country.  And even though Agriculture Day is one of the themed days during the fair, there are others such as Veteran’s Day and Family Day.  If you and your family are looking to learn something about Illinois agriculture, then the state fair will be the ideal destination for a little bit of learning while having fun at the same time.  One of the most iconic exhibits is the butter cow located in the Dairy Building.  Unsalted butter – approximately 500 pounds – is used to sculpt the life size cow over a frame made of wood and wire.  The kids will love it -and you will too!!  And while you’re checking out the butter cow, why not milk a cow?  YES, you can try your hand at milking a cow – oh, the patience of the poor cow!

Milking Cow Illinois State Fair

And while everyone is still in a learning frame of mind, you’ll want to visit Conservation World.  Thirty acres of green grass, rolling hills, trees and ponds create this educational area.   This is also where you’ll be able to see “The Whip Guy” and chainsaw carving by chain saw artists.  The Illinois Fire Museum & Services Tent is the largest interactive fire safety and antique exhibit in the United States!  The kids can climb on a real fire engine and have their picture taken in firefighter gear – how neat!  And finally, don’t forget to check out The Heartland.  This is Illinois’ salute to agriculture and features family entertainment and educational programs on agriculture.

But now the learning is over and everyone is ready to be a kid – including you!  Check out the Midway!  The Midway has more than 100 carnival rides for you to experience.  Two of the most anticipated midway rides will certainly be Mega Drop and Turbo Force.  I won’t tell you anything more about these two rides except to say that if you are a thrill seeker, you will want to check these out!  And what can the state fair be without a trip on the sky ride?  This ride takes you high above the fairgrounds to give you a view like you’ll never see on the ground.

But the fair is so much more than agriculture, education and carnival rides.  Are you an avid horse fan who enjoys horse racing?  Did you know that one of the fastest dirt tracks in the world is located right on the state fairgrounds?  This horse racing track offers several days of harness racing with estimated purses up to $45,000 and gives fairgoers the chance to not only view live horse racing but to place bets on your favorite horse! 

Even though I enjoy a good horse race, my favorite horse event at the fair has to be the Society Horse Show.  The horse show showcases many different breeds of horses and styles of riding and has been known to last into the wee hours of the morning.  When I worked at the fair, you could always find a group of us sitting in the top rows of the arena – judging the horses and comparing our placement to that of the judges.  And even though Dan and I did not know each other back in my high school days, we have figured out that he was probably at the fair the same time I was – he actually worked as a horse groomer for several individuals with show horses.  What a small world!

In addition to the horse events, the state fair just wouldn’t be complete without the livestock shows, a good truck and tractor pull (LOVE THEM) or some USAC or ARCA racing.  No matter what you are passionate about, you’ll find something for everyone at the fair.

But what is a state fair without fair food and drink?  I can remember buying a cup of watermelon balls when I worked there – great idea on a hot summer day.  But corn dogs (or pronto pups) have to be my favorite.  no matter what your taste buds are calling for, I’m pretty sure you’ll find it at the fair.  Check out Ethnic Village for foods and entertainment with an international flair.  The beer tents are always a happening place but if wine is more your style, check out the Illinois Wine Experience.  Approximately 20 Illinois wineries will be showcased inside the Twilight Ballroom where you will also find live entertainment nightly – including jazz, swing, blues and big band.

New this year, the Illinois State Fair has added four culinary competitions to its schedule.  The cooking contests include the first-ever Illinois State Fair horseshoe sandwich competition, the ‘Wake Up To Eggs’ contest where contestants will prepare an their best egg dish, and the Backyard Barbeque Pork Chop Contest.  All three of these competitions award cash prizes but the Seattle’s Best Coffee “Red Cup Showdown” awards not only a cash prize but a year’s supply of Seattle’s Best Coffee and a trip to New York City to compete in the national competition.  All deadlines for entering have passed but it’s never too early to plan for next year.

The Illinois State Fair has been known for its outstanding Grandstand entertainment and this year is no different.  Though it will be hard to beat Jason Aldean’s concert last year (the largest paid attendance ever at a fair concert), this year’s lineup has some great names.  The list for 2012 includes Eric Church, Demi Lovato, Toby Mac, Brantley Gilbert, Charlie Daniels Band, Cheap Trick and Blue Oyster Cult.  Miranda Lambert performs on Saturday, August 18 and the Steve Miller Band closes out the fair entertainment on Sunday, August 19.  I’m not going to tell you how long ago it’s been but I saw the Charlie Daniels Band at the fair when I worked there – talk about staying power!

There is SO much to do and see at the state fair that I could only touch on a small portion of it here.  Check out their web site at for daily activities, entertainment schedules, times and admission prices, and parking information.  No matter what your interest revolves around, the 2012 Illinois State Fair will offer something for everyone.  I’m only sorry that Dan and I can’t go check it out this year.  But I’ve already looked at the 2013 dates and we hope to pay a visit to our old stomping grounds.

Writing this blog prompted us to start talking about our favorite memories of the state fair.  We each have ours – what is yours?  We would also love to see any pictures you have of the fair so if you have any you would like to share, please let us know!  We’d love to hear about YOUR favorite memory!  Who knows – you could be featured in next year’s blog!  

Lori Biehl

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2 Comments on "2012 Illinois State Fair Begins Thursday!"

Re: 2012 Illinois State Fair Begins Thursday!
I have great memories of growing up and going to the fair. We would go every year. When I was older my friends and I would see Alabama play each year. Great memories & times!!
Posted by Gary Harpole on 8/14/2012 3:52:31 PM
Re: 2012 Illinois State Fair Begins Thursday!
Love the Buttered Cow! That was a MUST see every year & amazed me when I was little how they could make something like that out of butter... still does! Great Memories!
Posted by Stephanie Erwin on 8/14/2012 4:28:47 PM

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