DES MOINES — Heroes, hot dogs (with and without a stick) and honest Hawkeye hucksterism opened the Iowa State Fair.
The 11-day fair, with its national profile, attracted crowds of fairgoers who filled sidewalks and exhibition halls, posed for selfies with the butter cow, and stood in fast-moving lines for pork chops on a stick and dozens of other culinary adventures Thursday.
Dave Hoffman of LeMars, vice president of the Iowa Fair Board, said he believes the fair’s agricultural shows and other features are second to none.
“There’s just something for everyone to do every day and every night at the Iowa State Fair,” he said.
Gary Van Aernam of Exira, also a Fair Board member, described it as the greatest fair in the country.
“We know we’re the best, so come see us,” he said.
The fair opened with Heroes Day, a new designation celebrating law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel.
Maj. Todd Wieck of the Woodbury County Sheriff’s Office in Sioux City said he appreciated the salute.
“It’s nice to know that people care enough that they do something like this to recognize what we do,” he said during a break from sticking sheriff badge tattoos on kids in Law Enforcement Hall.
Wieck is an Omaha native who has served 27 years with the Sheriff’s Office. He and Deputy Zane Chwirka ate breakfast on the fairgrounds after driving from Sioux City. They shook hands with more than two dozen people who took a moment to thank the men for serving the public.
“There are a lot of great people living in the Midwest,” Wieck said. “We often see some of them at their worse. We know there’s a better side to that person, they’re just in a bad situation where they need our help. You’ve got to respect everybody.”
Tom Madigan of Okoboji came to the fair to watch three men who came to his rescue last year be recognized with Governor’s Lifesaving Awards.
Madigan was playing golf at Emerald Hills Golf Course in Arnolds Park when he suffered a heart attack. Golfers Jason Brown, Randy Krile and Dave Abrahamson came to his assistance and performed CPR. Minutes later, Bob Clark, assistant police chief in Milford, arrived with a defibrillator.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said the fair “connects and transcends generations.”
“This year’s fair promises to set a new level of excitement with the new rides and adventures, the three Thrill Parks,” she said.
Among the new twists are three renovated areas for amusement rides, instead of one midway. The three — Thrill Town, Thrill Ville and Thrill Zone — are geared to thrill-seekers of all ages.
Reynolds said one thing that hasn’t changed is the variety of food. There are 44 new types of foods and 70 different foods on a stick.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” she said.
There was no argument with that from a three-generation party from Des Moines pausing in the shadow of a food vendor’s booth. Four-year-old Frankie Dixon — his faced painted as the Wolverine action character — gnawed at a strawberry funnel stick.
His grandmother, Mary Lou Neugent, said she has been coming to the fair each year with her family since moving to Des Moines in 1973. She had daughter Lizzy Dixon and grandchildren Frankie, Louie, 8, and Grace, 1, along on opening day.
“We love the fair,” Neugent said.
Louie is so comfortable at the fair that two years ago he walked up to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and announced, “I lost my tooth.”
The family’s favorite activities include the Giant Slide and animal barns.
In the John Deere Agriculture Building, butter cow sculptor Sarah Pratt of West Des Moines touched up the creamy, 600-pound bovine inside a 40-degree cooler as hundreds filed by the windows to watch the activity.
Pratt also worked on butter sculptures of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her sister Mary. This year marks the 150th birthday of Laura, the author of the “Little House on the Prairie” books. Laura spent part of her childhood in Burr Oak, Iowa. Mary attended the Vinton (Iowa) School for the Blind.
The fair opened with a history-themed walking tour of the fairgrounds as part of the Healthiest State Initiative. Among the walkers were dozens of county fair queens — including Clara Schaaf of Randolph in Fremont County — with tiaras glistening in the sun. Nearly all the 99 county queens took part. The coronation of the 2017 Iowa State Fair queen takes place Saturday.