Fair fans flock through the gates as Minnesota State Fair begins its 12-day run

The entrance to the Minnesota State Fair.
Early fairgoers to the Minnesota State Fair wait for the gates to open on Thursday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Crowds started filling the Minnesota State Fairgrounds on Thursday morning, as the fair begins its 12-day run.

Whether they're there to exhibit livestock, catch a concert or try some of the dozens of new food and drink concoctions, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to attend this year's Great Minnesota Get-Together.

There was a long line at the Snelling Avenue gates before they opened Thursday. Jordan Johnson, a lifelong Minnesotan from Newport, was first in line this year, arriving at the gates 12 hours before the fair opened.

He was there ahead of Ginger Johnson of Apple Valley — no relation — who's long been a regular at the head of the line.

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Jordan Johnson said he decided to rise to the challenge this year.

"I just love the fair, and I found out that Ginger over here — a couple years ago I saw her in (Green Bay) Packer garb, and I thought, 'That's not right, for a Packer fan to be the first into the Minnesota State Fair.' So I was like, 'I gotta beat her one of these years.' So I made it work this year."

Circulating among the crowds early Thursday morning were a number of politicians, including Gov. Tim Walz.

Walz said the eagerness of the crowd, to get back to a near-normal state fair, was palpable.

"I just really felt that sense of community, camaraderie. It wasn't a lot of ... politics or anything like that; it felt more like neighborliness. 'How you been? How's the lake?" And you can hear people in line who didn't know one another, talking like that. ... We're all out there together."

The fair has adjusted its hours a bit this year, opening an hour later — at 7 a.m. each day — and closing an hour earlier, at 11 p.m. Entrance gates will close at 9 p.m.

That may help cover for a number of open positions that officials were still scrambling to fill in the days leading up to the fair.

The fair as well as Metro Transit, Southwest Transit and the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority are offering park-and-ride options from more than three dozen sites around the metro area.

It remains to be seen just how far the fair's attendance will climb back toward its pre-pandemic heights.

The fair drew a record 2.1 million people in 2019, then was canceled due to COVID in 2020. Last year — with some pandemic restrictions still in place — the fair drew about 1.3 million visitors.