Your Minnesota Weekend: State Fair Lovers (or not) Edition

A pickle and a wagon at the fair
Adrianne Staff, 3, of Blaine, Minn., enjoys a snack and a ride at the Minnesota State Fair Thursday.
Jeffrey Thompson/MPR News

It's the first weekend of the State Fair, which means two things: 1.) It will be socially acceptable to eat your body weight in food-on-a-stick and 2.) School is right around the corner, so it's time to take advantage of all the waning summer has to offer.

Minnesota — on both fronts — refuses to disappoint.

If you're the fairgoing type, consider this Your Minnesota Weekend: State Fair Edition.

If shuffling in the humidity elbow-to-elbow with thousands of fellow Minnesotans trying to keep their fried food from and melty ice cream from falling on their toes, laden with bags full of Education-Building swag isn't your idea of fun, consider this Your Minnesota Weekend: Last Chance of Summer Edition.

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Read on. [And check the weather. MPR News meteorologist Paul Huttner says it could be a muggy, thundery one.]

If you go: Hidden gems of the Minnesota State Fair

Lamb fashion at the fair
Lambs and their owners participate in the 2010 Minnesota State Fair's 4-H Lamb Lead Show, where the owners make clothing out of wool for themselves and their animals.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

We've heard all about the new transportation hub and the hordes of new foods to try. (Did you know there's a whole list of gluten-free offerings?) But it's likely that even the most seasoned of fairgoers have missed a few gems along the way. (Full fair schedule)

Full coverage: Minnesota State Fair

A few ways to make this year's fair visit stand out among the rest:

Catch a competition

• Beer: Minnesota State Fair homebrew competition (11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, Ag-Hort building), plus Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild talks at 3 and 6 p.m.
• Barbecue: 4-H Chicken BBQ contest (8:30 a.m. Saturday, outside Warner Coliseum)
• Milk: Milk Moo-stache Contest (2:30 p.m. Saturday, outside Cattle Barn)
• Fair foods: State Fair foods competition judging (11 a.m. Saturday, Creative Activities Building)

See a show

• Draft horse show (6 p.m. Saturday, Warner Coliseum)
• Lamb Lead: 4-H students design and create outfits
— for themselves and their lambs — out of wool. At the Lamb Lead, they present the outfits, and the lambs, to the gathered crowd. (8 a.m. Saturday and 9:45 a.m. Sunday, Swine Barn)

Learn something

• Urban chicken farming (2 p.m. Saturday, Miracle of Birth Center's Nursery of Knowledge)
• From Honeycrisp to Honey Bees: U of M walking tour (11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Ag-Hort Building) And then just before or just after, Ask the Apple Grower (10 a.m.-3 p.m.)
• Pet surgery: Watch a live surgery, performed by members of the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association. (10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. every day at the Pet Center)

Find your passions

• Dance: FAIR-well-to-summer dance party (8-11 p.m. Saturday, Carousel Park)
• Running: 30th annual 5K Milk Run (7:45 a.m. Sunday, West Dan Patch Ave.)
• The environment: Woody invasive species identification and control (11 a.m. Sunday, DNR Outdoor Stage); Do you have invasive insects in your garden? (1 p.m. Sunday, DNR Outdoor Stage)
• Food: Renewing the countryside cooking demonstration (11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday, Sustainability Stage)

And, of course, don't miss seeing would-be Poultry Princes and Princesses as they test their knowledge (there's a quiz and showmanship competition) at the poultry coronation Sunday at noon in the Poultry and Sheep Barn.

If you don't: Get outta town!

Jeffers Petroglyphs site is surrounded by prairie
The mile-long trail loop around the Jeffers Petroglyphs site in Comfrey, Minn., winds through tallgrass prairie below broad, open skies.
Meg Martin/MPR News

Across Minnesota, there are fabulous finds, festivals and adventures to be had that won't be around (or open) after Labor Day. Seems like the perfect time for a Minnesota adventure, no?

New York Mills: Finn Creek Museum Summer Folk Festival

For the 39th year, the Finn Creek open-air museum will host its annual folk festival: Food all day (from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.: Finnish treats, homemade pies, hot meals and more), an antique tractor pull, a gift shop, log-sawing, horse-drawn wagon rides...

And then there are the buildings that make up the open-air museum: Tour the chapel, town hall, schoolhouse and blacksmith shop.

The museum is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day, so time is running short for the 2014 season.

• Aug. 23-24 from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.
• New York Mills, Minn. (get directions)

Comfrey: Jeffers Petroglyphs

They're technically open Saturdays in September, but the Jeffers Petroglyphs site's regular summertime hours end on Labor Day weekend.

The petroglyphs — inscriptions carved (and colored) onto flat rock amid the tall grasses of the chokecherry and prairie grasses — mark more than 7,000 years of history.

The site offers docent-led and self-guided tours along the Sioux quartzite and tall grasses along two nature trails, which total about a mile-long loop, if you take them both. You can find along the trail a polished-smooth buffalo rub and signs pointing out the native flowers, grasses and trees along the path.

The best time to view the petroglyphs are at the 'golden hours' of the day, when the sunlight hits the rock faces just so — right after sunrise or just before sunset — but with a little help from a mirror, the carvings will appear more clearly at other times of day. (More here)

And if you do visit the site, consider adding on a trip to Pipestone National Monument, a little more than an hour away.

• Through Labor Day: Monday plus Wednesday through Saturday: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday: noon-5 p.m.
• September: Saturdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
• 27160 County Road 2, Comfrey (directions) • Jeffers Petroglyphs

St. Paul: Fitness in the Parks

Perhaps the antidote to the excesses of the State Fair, St. Paul's Fitness in the Parks program offers free fitness classes — yoga, kickboxing, meditation, dance, etc. — in many of its city parks. The program is scheduled to run through the end of August, though it's possible at least some of the classes will be extended into September.

• Through the end of August
• St. Paul's parks (more on Facebook)
Schedule and info

Is this truly the weekend of the rutabaga?
Johnathan Nightingale via Flickr

Rutabaga Festivals

It is, it seems, the Weekend of the Rutabaga. This year marks the 82nd year the town of Cumberland, Wis., has hosted its celebration of the storied root vegetable — and it's the 101st year for the Minnesota town of Askov.

'Tis the season — with two options for celebrating.

Askov Rutabaga Festival: Aebleskiver stands, bingo, exhibits, parade, craft fair, Battle of the Fire Departments, music, square dancing, treasure hunt...
• Aug. 22-24 schedule)
• Askov, Minn.

Cumberland Rutabaga Festival: Rutabaga royalty, pancake breakfast, car show, fun run, arts and crafts, hot-pepper-eating contest, music, parade...
• Aug. 20-24
• Cumberland, Wis.

Barnesville: Potato Days

• Friday and Saturday, Aug. 22-23
• Barnesville (directions)

And if you're really up for a road trip, this weekend marks the festival that calls itself "Nebraska's Longest Continuously Running Celebration": North Loup Popcorn Days (est. 1901), in North Loup, Neb. (information and schedule)