With one eye on the weather and one eye on COVID numbers, the Douglas County Fair Board is finishing up last-minute preparations for the Douglas County Fair, which starts Tuesday evening.

"I anticipate it's going to be a fun, people-packed fair, but we have to have good weather," said Brad Brejcha, fair vice president. He added that the fair board is also communicating with health officials about COVID precautions.

The Douglas County Fair in Alexandria is one of the last of Minnesota's 92 county fairs, and if it follows patterns elsewhere, attendance and food sales will be up, said Steve Storck, president of the Minnesota Federation of County Fairs.

"Attendance seems to be very good at all the county fairs," Storck said. "People haven't been able to eat fair food for two years, and then also, they talk about a fall surge. They want to get a little back to normal before we have to wear a mask again."

The west fair gate will open at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 17, with food vendors and the Johnny Holm Band, as well as a progressive cash giveaway. Entrance for Tuesday only will cost $5. The entrance fee for the rest of the week is $8 for paying cash at the gate, or you can save a buck by buying tickets ahead of time at dcmnfair.com, then swipe your phone at the entrance kiosk. Fairgoers can save 50 cents by buying a ticket at the kiosk at fair time.

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Musical acts will provide near-constant entertainment, as 17 bands have signed on, up from 11 in 2019. Most bands are local or regional favorites, with two nationally-known performers also coming: America's Got Talent finalist Jason Pritchett and "Cotton King" Sherwin Linton, a veteran performer whose career dates back to the 1960s.

"Our entertainment is all high-energy and anxious to get out here," Brejcha said. "They're anxious to get out on the road and have some fun."

Many popular acts will return, including a law dog demonstration, minnow and turtle races, a tractor pull and demolition derbies. The tractor pull and the lawn mower demolition derbies are free grandstand events. The automobile demolition derby is a paid event, and that organizer, the Viking Speedway, has moved the time a bit earlier, to 6:30 p.m.

One recent add is the Seatbelt Convincer that visitors to Community Night Out earlier this month might have seen. Operated by Horizon Public Health, it demonstrates the need for wearing seatbelts. Watch for it at the Commercial Building.

In a nod to the pandemic, the fair has spent more than $6,000 on hand sanitizer stations, but it isn't requiring social distancing at events like those at the grandstand, saying that it would be difficult to enforce. However, people who are sick are asked to stay home, and the fair will offer a limited supply of masks.

"We want to make sure we're in compliance with what needs to be done," Brejcha said. "We've been following the guidelines for fairs."

He added, "Given our past history, we're confident we've got what it takes to put on a good fair. Public health just agreed to have a booth out here, so I'm assuming they're anticipating it'll be a safe fair. If at any time we decide it's not safe, then we'll take appropriate action."