Operating from a new facility after more than 50 years at the familiar but sagging fairgrounds, the 2009 Lake County Fair was all about a fresh start.
This year, the annual event, which runs from July 27 to Aug. 1, will focus on adjustments.
Contact information ( * required )
Though deemed a success by organizers, nearly 20,000 fewer people - a drop of nearly 13 percent - from the year before attended the inaugural spectacle in 2009 at Peterson and Midlothian roads in Grayslake.
"I think the curiosity was there. The weather and the problems getting people in here were our biggest downfalls," said Dave DeYoung, president of the not-for-profit Lake County Fair Association.
Ill-timed downpours that turned parking areas to mud, maddening traffic jams and parking predicaments diminished the experience for some fairgoers.
Incomplete facilities, fewer animals and long distances between attractions at the new fairgrounds, which is much larger than the old spot 4 miles north at routes 120 and 45, also differed from what visitors were used to.
Those shortcomings weren't lost on the Lake County Fair Association, which also runs other events throughout the year.
"It was too spread out. It looked like a carnival at the Jewel parking lot," DeYoung said. "We're bringing it back into a focus that's more like the old fairgrounds, more bundled together and cozy."
To do that, the carnival rides and games will be moved to the south end of the fairgrounds. That will free up the 1,200-space main asphalt parking lot for visitors, although those spots will cost $5.
"They'll park a lot faster than spinning their wheels in mud," DeYoung said.
Getting in and out this year won't be as easy as hoped, however, because the planned extension of Midlothian Road to Harris Road has not happened. That would have provided a second entrance and exit to the fairgrounds.
Lake County transportation officials said there were delays in getting an agreement to widen the Canadian National railroad crossing in the area. They expect to bid the project in October.
Despite that limitation, fair director Bill Obenauf said moving people will be a priority.
"That's going to be the main thrust," he said. At least one trolley from the northern lots will run to the entrance, and professionals have been hired to direct traffic.
DeYoung said the process of getting in and out will be more efficient this year.
"We're going to do a better job of parking people," he stressed. "We made a change and we feel it's a major change to expedite parking."
Weather is always a wild card at fair time but even if it does rain, the grassy areas are more established and should not be as messy.
While there will be no major changes in the actual events and offerings, visitors will see some differences compared to last year.
Beer again will flow but with a different vendor, meaning the Budweiser Clydesdales won't be in attendance. Bingo is back and will be offered for eight hours a day.
Fair officials say money and credit have been tight. Adjacent property owned by the fair association has been for sale for commercial development, but there have been no takers.
That means trailers again will be used at the front gate, as the entrance and ticket building is incomplete, and a 15,000-square-foot exposition center remains on the drawing board.
But two more animal barns have come on line, allowing the fair to once again invite exhibitors from outside Lake County.
As for music, an experiment with national country acts is coming to a close.
"When you start talking the kind of money they want for a 90-minute show, we can do a lot more," DeYoung said. "We just don't feel the big name entertainment is fitting at this fair yet."
Tribute bands, such as American English (The Beatles) and Mellencougar (John Mellencamp) and local country rockers Southern Exposure are among the musical acts.
All county fairs struggle to find the right mix of attractions to separate themselves from local town festivals and attract crowds for their banner event.
How this year's version will do is impossible to predict.
"Every fair is so individual," said Charlyn Fargo, bureau chief of county fairs and horse racing for the Illinois Department of Agriculture. She attended the 2009 opening in Lake County.
"Some are doing good, some are struggling, some are doing great," Fargo said recently. "Each fair has so much to offer."