This view from the grandstand shows extensive flooding at the North Dakota State Fair in Minot.

For the first time since 1965, the North Dakota State Fair won’t go on. On July 17, Fair Manager Renae Korslien announced that the nine-day event, scheduled to begin July 22, has been cancelled due to flooding. Korslien said North Dakota will lose out on $30 million in economic impact from the annual event, which attracts 300,000 attendees, 46,000 competitive exhibits and 600 commercial vendors.

As of last week, the Minot, N.D.-based fair was still scheduled to run, despite the flooding Souris River. Based on hydrographs from the National Weather Service, Korslien had planned to put on a smaller fair. “We weren’t having any of the static exhibits, just a smaller scale, but still very good, fair,” she said. Those plans changed when a five-inch rainfall hit just north of Minot.

“It didn’t increase the flow of the river,” said Korslien, “but it kept it high when the elevation was supposed to have dropped.” The rainfall put the fair behind schedule four additional days and caused severe flooding throughout the fairgrounds, damaging many buildings.

Country stars Lady Antebellum and Toby Keith were scheduled to play the grandstand. The fair had $2.1 million tied up in acts for the fair. “We’re not paying any of the acts,” Korslien said. “Our booking agent, Romeo Entertainment Group, whom I can’t say enough good about, got us out of all those contracts through the Act of God clause.”

Flooding Damage inside the exhibit barn

The fair is refunding money for all the ticket purchases made before the cancellation announcements. “It won’t be a pretty financial statement this year,” Korslien said, “but we’ll pull our big-girl boots up and we’ll get back to work.”

While the fair’s coffers are bracing for the worst, the financial statement might be helped by an unexpected source — vendors.

“We have had some phone calls even from commercial vendors that have said, ‘don’t return my deposit, put that towards whatever you can do to help yourselves rebuild that fair,’” said Korslien. Deposits range from $150 to $375.

One such donation came from Roughrider RV in Beulah, N.D. Joe Tavis said the cancellation will cause the company to “miss out on some customers because we have a big customer base up there.” Roughrider plans on being back next year, continuing their years-long tradition of being a vendor. ”The owners here decided that instead of trying to get our money back, just to donate it to the fairgrounds to help with the clean-up and get them back on their feet,” said Tavis. “It’s a small price to pay for what they’re going through” at the fairgrounds.

A dedicated and hardworking staff kept the grandstand and State Fair Center dry, but all of the other buildings on the grounds, 19 of which belong to the fair, are severely damaged. “They will all have to be rewired because, of course, all the electrical got wet,” said Korslien, who added that “there may be some structural damage — we’re not done evaluating yet.”

The first step in the cleaning process is to remove the trash that washed in with the river.

Even though so many buildings were damaged, Korslien considers the fight to save the fairgrounds a success story because the two main buildings were saved. She shared that the fair has a staff of 30 people, 13 of whom lost their homes. “They still came and worked for us — some of them for four days straight,” she said. Those who stayed overnight took turns working the pumps to keep water out of the grandstand and State Fair Center. The team of staff, led by Craig Rudland, was “phenomenal,” even in extreme situations — including when the National Guard dropped sandbags on the wrong side of the grandstand and staff had to pick them up in multiple boat trips over the flooded fairgrounds.

Jerome Hertel, manager at the South Dakota State Fairgrounds, Huron, thinks his business might increase in light of the North Dakota cancellation. “We welcome [N.D. residents] just like we welcome residents from any of the other neighboring states,” said Hertel, who added, “we’re hoping we might see an increase in some of the exhibitors and our open class events.”

A fair cancellation is obviously tough on the budget, but Hertel said that the biggest loss is for the people of North Dakota. “A fair is a great opportunity for youth and 4-H and FFA to learn and grow as a person — it’s kind of disheartening to see that opportunity lost.”

The North Dakota State Fair is set to resume July 20-28, 2012. —Jessica Boudevin

Interviewed for this story: Jerome Hertel, (605) 353-7340; Renae Korslien, (701) 857-7620; Joe Tavis, (701) 873-2103