BILLINGS, Mont. – For more than a hundred years, the MontanaFair has been one of the state’s premier agricultural and entertainment events of the summer. It has attracted tens of thousands of visitors from all over the state and the region.
So grab your hats – and masks, as they are required to take part in rides and other activities – and come on down to one of the oldest, and largest fairs in Montana.
Fairgoers will still be able to enjoy the Mighty Thomas Carnival, foods, beverages, and a craft show.
Only 3,000 guests will be allowed into MontanaFair at one time. Gates will be monitored to adhere to the self-imposed limit.
After Sneak-A-Peek weekends, which end on Aug. 2, MontanaFair will have one Sneak-A-Peek day on Aug. 6, followed by nine more days of fair from Aug. 7-15. From Aug. 6-7, gates will be open from 4-11 p.m., and from Aug. 8-15, gates will be open from 2-11 p.m.
With no PRCA rodeo, concerts, or supercross this year, Metra Park has announced that they are lowering the price for fair admission this year. The regular admission price is $5.
There is always the feel of agriculture at the fair – from the barns filled with live animals to the farm and ranch businesses that come from near and far. However, only 4-H will be allowed into buildings this year.
There will also not be any public viewing of 4-H or FFA animal exhibits before the sale. In June, the entry fees were waived for entries this year for kids.
In the Ag Building and throughout the fair, agricultural businesses, from seed companies to chemical sales to farm and ranch equipment usually have displays. While some have dropped out, people have visited these displays for decades - even in the early days when the MontanaFair was known as the Midland Empire Fair.
Roni Baker, Yellowstone County 4-H Extension agent, said there are many 4-H exhibits this year. Lots of kids worked on photography, woodwork, puzzles on paper, drawings, designs and more.
Nearly 10,000 kids and adults will earn cash and ribbons for their fair entries, which range from bunnies, crocheting, horticulture, horses, cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, petit-point, pickles, sewing quilts and wool projects, to arts and crafts.
“Exhibitors spend hours and hours getting ready for fair – from leather craft and woodworking to their steers, bred heifers, and chickens,” Baker said.
“The FFA and 4-H kids have worked hard on their projects all year, but the public won’t see it. But we will still have judging and a sale,” she continued.
“With COVID-19, we had to be creative, so we decided to live stream all the livestock shows and judging,” she said. “Our 4-H shows are the culmination of a year’s work for these kids, and the kids are bringing all kinds of animals to show.”
4-H will come in and tag their steer or beef or other animal. Many have breeding projects and will have bred heifers.
“Each kid will be able to sell one animal at the sale,” Baker said, who hopes businesses will tune in and buy market animals from the kids.
Baker said the livestock show can be entered by anyone in the state, and those that attend can still go to their own show, as well.
For the first time ever, there will be a Craft Fest & Art Walk at MontanaFair.
“We know that several of the local craft shows and art display walks have been canceled due to social distancing requirements. Keeping the public’s health and safety in mind, we feel we can accomplish this at MontanaFair,” said Catherine Dove, superintendent at Craft Fest.
Check the schedule on line to see when it will be held.
Dove says it is a handmade arts/crafts only show. Crafters that sell products at craft shows, gift stores, and sell on websites are welcome.
With COVID-19, the Mighty Thomas Carnival is returning to the MontanaFair this year, but with new actions being taken to keep people safe.
Rides selected for this year’s fair were chosen because they are easy to clean according to a release from MetraPark.
Mighty Thomas Carnival will have 28 rides, food booths and games, and ride favorites coming back this year, including: Speed, Black Out, Pharaoh’s Wheel, Moby Dick, Monster Trucks, Dizzy Dragons, the Wacky Cowboy Coaster and more.
Additional actions being taken include:
- A physically distanced midway area, giving more room between attractions.
- Maximum attendance limits on fairgrounds for any given hour to provide distancing.
- Enhanced cleaning protocols on rides.
- Limits on ride occupancy maintained at 50 percent of rated availability
- Physical distancing protocols for any lines that may develop.
1916 was the start of something spectacular – it was the year of the first Midland Empire Fair.
The fair promised to have the finest agricultural, livestock and industrial exhibits ever seen – and it did. The Midland Empire Fair brought together communities from all over Montana and northern Wyoming.
This allowed people to show off their projects they had been working on all year in hopes of winning a blue ribbon and some recognition.
With great excitement for this new endeavor, the fair board made special arrangements with the Northern Pacific Railroad to run a train from the depot to the fairgrounds. This arrangement gave special rates for riders of the train to travel back and forth from the fair to home.
With great success, the fair continued to grow over the years, but in 1919, it was bigger and even more elaborate than it had been. This 4th annual fair had several counties of northern Wyoming involved in showing exhibits and livestock. Wyoming recognized that the Midland Empire Fair was a great advertising tool in the northwest.
Midland Empire Fair housed the finest livestock in the region and people traveled from all over. Soon, Montana started becoming known as a state in which purebred livestock was a specialty. Not only was there exhibits and livestock, but also the attractions of horseracing and rodeo. The annual horserace drew thousands and the rodeo brought in cowboys from all over the nation. Both types of riders competed for the largest purses rewarded to winners.
The fair was a destination for exhibitors and a place where all the citizens from different counties could exchange helpful advice. They were able to discuss what worked for them and why, as well as what didn’t work.
After having the name Midland Empire Fair for nearly 60 years, the fair board decided it was time for a name change and rebranded the fair as the Yellowstone Exhibition.
The Yellowstone Exhibition lasted about for about 14 years until transitioning to the MontanaFair that we have today here at MetraPark. Although the name has changed, the event still stays true to the original mission of celebrating agriculture and education.
Smell the cotton candy?
No one has ever gone home hungry from the MontanaFair. That won’t be different this year.
Food choices are abundant, featuring the traditional corn dog, BBQ, corn on the cob, ‘Vikings on a Stick,’ fresh lemonade, hamburgers, deep fried pickles, deep fried Snickers, Indian tacos, cotton candy, caramel apples, ice cream, lemonade and all kinds of other foods and drinks.
For more information on the 2020 MontanaFair, log on to http://www.montanafair.com/events.