Fair and balanced budget

(First published in the August 2, 2018 issue of City Pages)

The Wisconsin Valley Fair aims to break even this year with some major changes


Wisconsin Valley Fair Board President Keith Langenhahn rides a cow vehicle during the opening parade for the fair, which is celebrating its 150th year and has struggled with operating deficits.

The cows are about to come home at the Wisconsin Valley Fair this year. Marathon County officials are hoping some major changes to the fair, which kicked off Tuesday, July 31and ran through Sunday, Aug. 5, will help erase the deficit the event has seen for years.

The fair saw a $20,000 loss last year, says Fair President Keith Langenhahn. And that was an improvement over previous years. Cutting back on the Grandstand entertainment expenses is a big part of the effort to break even this year, Langenhahn says. There will be only three nights of major music entertainment, along with Kids from Wisconsin musical act. A motorsports competition on Saturday adds to the regular demolition derby on Sunday. So far the three major musical acts are either sold out, or close to it, fair officials say.

And in celebration of its 150th year, the fair planned fireworks on its opening night, the first time the fair has ever done that, Langenhahn says.

The fair serves an important agricultural education function, Langenhahn says. Fair Board member Rick Seefeldt says animal entrants across all categories are up, with 224 hogs, 247 dairy cows, 60 sheep, 86 beef cattle, 90 goats, 330 rabbits and more than 400 chickens.

That turn around is needed. Last year the county’s economic development committee granted $20,000 of its discretionary funds to help the fair budget, but this year trimmed that subsidy to $15,000.

Early indications point to a good chance the fair will break even this year. In addition to sold out musical acts (devoid of the controversy of 2017’s Ted Nugent concert), a midway “bursting at the seams” makes fair board members optimistic they can turn the ship around.