In just one week, the great Minnesota get-together will get underway, but there will be a few changes at the fairgrounds this year. FOX 9 News spoke with spokeswoman Brienna Schuette about them.
Q: Let's talk first about one of the big changes, and that's smoking. Smoking will be confined to designated areas. Why the big change?
A: We are looking at other festivals and events in town and kind of around the country and we are sort of one of the last to get into the designated smoking area -- or smoke-free. So, what we decided to do is try to accommodate all fair guests by creating 18 designated smoking areas throughout the fairgrounds. So, if you want to smoke at the fair, you can still do that. You just have to go to a designated area, and there will be benches put there and a place for spent cigarettes. So, it should be very accommodating.
Q: So what happens if someone is walking down Dan Patch Avenue with a heater in their hand? What's going to happen?
A: We're really focusing on giving people polite reminders that there are 18 locations where they can smoke on the fairgrounds and just ask them politely to move to the nearest one.
Q: What about e-cigarettes?
A: Good question. You can actually use an e-cigarette, because they're smokeless, anywhere on the fairgrounds.
Q: After the Boston bombings, we see the security changes at NFL stadiums -- even in the Metrodome here in town. I have to believe it's top-of-mind for fair security as well this year.
A: Absolutely. Our police have a plan in place this year to specifically address any backpacks or packages that are left unattended or get reported to State Fair police. We're also doing a few K-9 sweeps in cooperation with the St. Paul Police Department before the fair and also during the fair.
Additionally, any cars that are left on the grounds after 8 a.m. and they're left here parked or idling -- they will be enforcing a strict towing policy. So, they will be moved out right away. During this time period, while it seems very quiet out here, there's a lot of people setting up. We're actually closing the fairgrounds until the day of the fair -- the opening morning. What we're doing is: We're checking cars and trucks that come into the grounds and ID-ing every driver.
Q: Just to be clear, you have not put a ban on any sorts of bags or things that you're bringing into the park. Is that correct?
A: That's correct. For families, it's really tough to come to the fair for a day without a backpack and all the things you need for your family and children. So, we haven't put a ban on them, but we will be watching backpacks and packages very closely this year.
Q: Every year, there are dozens of kids that get away from their parents. It's so easy to have that happen when the crowds are that big. Most are not gone for that long, but you have actually set up a system with ID bracelets that should help everyone find their kids?
A: That is my best recommendation for parents. The first thing to do is stop at an information booth when you get to the fair. We have free ID bracelets that you can pick up at any of information booths or the care and assistance center. You can fill the bracelets out with mom and dad's contact information and if your child gets lost, tell them to find the nearest state fair information booth or police officer and they will help reunite you at the care and assistance center.