New amusement rides? Check.
New food on a stick? Check.
The butter cow, a tradition since 1911? Check.
The Iowa State Fair opens its 11-day run Thursday in Des Moines with the promise of new thrills at one of the oldest and largest agricultural and industrial expositions in the country. It attracts more than 1 million fairgoers each year.
Nothing compares to the Iowa State Fair, said Mindy Williamson, marketing director. In fact, “Nothing Compares” has been the core theme since 2011.
“We have lots of the traditional, like the butter cow, but fairgoers will find new things, too,’’ Williamson said.
The mix of old and new will be obvious in the amusement rides. The fair independently booked rides for the first time this year rather than contracting with an amusement ride company.
“That gave us the flexibility to pick and choose the quality equipment we think fairgoers want to see,’’ Williamson said. “It’s like how we manage the food concessions. We pick and choose what fairgoers might want to eat. We go after the best of the best.’’
Fair favorites like the Giant Slide and the Crazy Mouse roller coaster — plus bumper cars and Ferris wheels that have been staples of the fair for decades — have been organized into three Thrill Parks. The fair unveils three renovated amusement areas geared for thrill-seekers of all ages: Thrill Town, Thrill Ville and Thrill Zone.
Thrill Town is designed for families with children under 42 inches tall, with plenty of space for stroller parking.
Thrill Ville is the place for spectacular, jaw-dropping and super-speed screams. It’s in the traditional midway location.
Thrill Zone is geared for extreme thrill-seekers looking for hair-raising adventure, such as the ejection-seat ride, Williamson said. A new ride is the Wind Storm roller coaster. It arrived in 12 semitrailer trucks.
The fair’s full theme this year is “Nothing Compares to State Fair Thrills.”
But the most exciting thing may be the fair offering wristbands in lieu of tickets, Williamson said. Fairgoers can access rides and games simply by scanning a wristband. Wristbands can be ordered online at etix.com or purchased at the fair. Advance purchases are available only through Wednesday.
Forty-four new foods — call them culinary adventures ranging from sweet to salty and strange to tasty — will be on fairgrounds menus.
Foods making their Iowa debuts include cheesy fried enchilada funnel cake, pancake taco and a sweet brat hot dog with maple syrup on a stick. And bacon. Lots of bacon. There will be bacon cheese fries, bacon in a cup, bacon-wrapped hot dog and bacon-wrapped chicken on a stick.
“Come hungry,’’ Williamson said.
Three new fair foods will compete in the People’s Choice Best New Food Contest. The finalists:
» Pork-Almighty ($12) — Contains crispy beer-battered twister fries covered with queso cheese sauce, smothered with smoked shredded pork, topped with sautéed onions, green peppers and Iowa-based Cookies barbecue sauce and sprinkled with shredded cheese. Soft drink included.
» Iowa’s Big Pork Leg ($9) — A pork shank that was Iowa raised and smoked with a sweet Caribbean seasoning.
» Mig’s Hickory-Smoked Chicken BLT Wrap ($9) — Diced smoked chicken tossed with creamy bacon dressing, celery and chopped herbs. Inside the tortilla is the chicken salad mix with shredded iceberg lettuce, diced tomatoes and crispy bacon bits.
The butter cow has shared her cooler space with creamy figures depicting Elvis Presley and Harry Potter in recent years. This year, Laura Ingalls Wilder will be cast in cream butter to celebrate her 150th birthday.
Agricultural education from baby animals to food production is a highlight of the fair. New birthing videos explain the basics on how some of Iowa’s cutest baby farm animals arrived. Watch the births of chicks, ducklings and ostriches. For text alerts on when farm animals are being born text BABY to 75782.
Kids can feel the squish of grapes between their toes at Grandfather’s Barn. Competitions for kids include bubble gum blowing, pie eating, mom calling, checkers and a pigtail, ponytail, braid, mullet and mohawk contest.
The fair opens with Heroes Day, a new designation celebrating emergency medical personnel, firefighters and police officers. These personnel are encouraged to wear a shirt representing their hometown department to denote their service to their communities.
“It’s an opportunity to celebrate and thank those who often put our safety before their own,’’ Williamson said.