Ever since I moved to Minnesota in 1983, I have regularly attended the Great Minnesota Get-Together, aka. The Minnesota State Fair. Last year, in my quest to enjoy what was left of our short summer, I decided to visit the Fair every day of its 12-day run. I am one of those who cannot get enough of the Fair. My reasons for going so often are similar to most: the food, people-watching, the food, concerts, the food, checking out the exhibit halls, the food, animal barns, and so on. Did I mention the food? Now I would like to share some of the things I have learned that might be helpful to you the next time you visit the Fair. I also hope that you will share some of your tips and feedback about attending the Fair you can reach me at www.accessminnesota.org.
The Fair’s own website (http://www.mnstatefair.org/pages/geninfo_access.html) provides helpful information to the disability community as it has a special section on accessibility. Please visit this site for comprehensive information on all transport options. These include: parking on the fairgrounds, park & ride, a drop-off area, and Metro Transit. But if all these options fail, park in Tim Benjamin’s front yard.
Upon arrival, the first thing you should do after grabbing something to eat is stop by one of the information booths and pick up an Accessibility Guide and map of the Fair. These brochures will give you some great information about accommodations for persons with disabilities. For example, if you need an accessible unisex restroom, stop by the Care & Assistance Center on Dan Patch Avenue across from Heritage Square. This restroom is clean, spacious, and air-conditioned. The people in the Care & Assistance Center are very helpful. It is also a meeting spot for those who are lost or separated from their family and friends and provides child care facilities, and wheelchair battery charging. Located next to the Care & Assistance Center is a Medical Aid Station, which provides first aid for minor ailments.
If you’re on the other end of the fairgrounds, the Progress Center and the Fine Arts Building have newer unisex restrooms. There are also unisex restrooms under the Grandstand ramp. Review your map for other locations because the Fair adds new restrooms every year.
On one of my visits to the Fair last year, I took my granddaughter, Heidi, on 4-H Day. We visited the 4-H building and then the animal barns. You might find the animal barns more “enjoyable” if you visit them on the cooler days or in the early morning. I don’t need to explain. Make sure to visit the swine barn where you can see the mother pig with her babies, as well as Minnesota’s largest boar (no, it’s not Jesse).
One of my favorite spots to do some people-watching is the beer garden next to the entrance to the Midway. I do not spend much time on the Midway, but if you want to experience the entire Fair, a visit there is a must. Be warned though that navigating through this area can be tricky due to crowds, cables on the ground, and so on.
My favorite place to watch people is the Ballpark Cafe‚ on the west side of the Food Building. At the Ballpark Cafe‚, you can get beer and food, listen to live music, and catch the latest Twins action on several nearby TVs.
I usually attend a few concerts each year at the Grandstand. If you need wheelchair seating, make sure your tickets are for Row 8. Row 7 is flagged as accessible according to Ticketmaster, but this row is down a couple of steps!
Some days are more crowded than others, and afternoons and evenings are more crowded than mornings. Weekends are always busy. The combined Seniors & Kids Days are doubly crowded. They fill up early and fast, plus, all of the accessible parking spots go quickly.
Finally, Last Chance Day (Labor Day) is for bargain hunters! Many concessionaires offer closeout prices on food, merchandise, and souvenirs. It’s also the day of the stock car race at the Grandstand. I enjoy the race and watch it every year. But if you go on this day, expect plenty of noise for most of the morning and well into the afternoon, especially when you’re near the Grandstand.
The Minnesota State Fair offers services that are intended to benefit visitors with disabilities. These include: assistive listening devices, ASL interpreters, TTY phones, and curb cuts throughout the fairgrounds. Wheelchairs, electric scooters, and other mobility aids are available for rent at four locations on the fairgrounds. Rental fees range from $7 per day for strollers to $40 per day ($25 after 6 p.m.) for electric scooters.
Furthermore, the Fair has done a great job of accommodating the needs of persons with disabilities. Improvements are made every year. Many of these have come about because visitors with disabilities have shared their suggestions with the Fair staff. After visiting the Minnesota State Fair for 12 straight days, I encourage you to participate in all it has to offer. It is part of our Minnesota heritage and it does provide a great way to get together.