GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Recent heavy rains have Nebraska State Fair officials exploring alternative plans for parking if the grass parking lots at Fonner Park are too soft to accommodate the large number of vehicles expected for opening weekend. The fair starts Aug. 23.
“Due to moisture levels at our grass parking lots, we are preparing for the possibility of shuttling all guests to the Nebraska State Fair from pickup locations across the city,” said Lori Cox, executive director of the fair. “Our current shuttle provider, Holiday Express, will be ramping up additional shuttles in conjunction with this effort.”
On Thursday, Grand Island received more than an inch of rain. For the month, it has received more than 6 inches of rain. More rain was expected Thursday evening and Friday.
In 2014, the State Fair experienced the same problem with the grass parking lots at Fonner. A week with more than 21/2 inches of rain turned the fair’s lots into temporary lakes and caused minor flooding on the fairgrounds. State Fair officials had employees dump gravel in the lots to try to ease the mud problems. Pumper trucks also were used in the parking lots and on the fairgrounds to vacuum up water and remove it from the grounds.
That year, the parking area off Stolley Park Road also was affected by the heavy rain, along with the east parking area near Thompson Arena.
Cox said a similar situation exists now with parking around the fairgrounds.
Starting Saturday, the Grand Island weather forecast does not mention rain, and temperatures will be in the 90s at the beginning of next week. If that forecast holds, it will allow fair officials to come up with strategies for dealing with the excessively wet grounds at Fonner.
Opening weekend for the fair can draw as many as 100,000 people , especially this year, when the fair is celebrating its 150th anniversary.
Also, on opening day, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting at the fair.
While there are shuttle buses to take visitors to the fair from throughout Grand Island, more than 90 % of the fair’s attendees depend on the parking at the fairgrounds.
As part of the fair’s contingency plan, Cox and community leaders are looking to secure and reserve large paved lots throughout town that could provide additional parking .
Cox said fair officials currently have pickup locations at Conestoga Mall, Sam’s Club and Walmart South.
Cox is also trying to line up more buses if people can’t park at the fairgrounds.
“Imagine how many buses we need if all 70,000 people, who would come on a single day, need to be bused in,” she said. “That is what we are grappling with right now.”