The Illinois State Fair will have plenty of affordable, family-friendly entertainment this year, in spite of the state’s mounting budget crisis, according to fair planners.

The Illinois State Fair will have plenty of affordable, family-friendly entertainment this year, in spite of the state’s mounting budget crisis, according to fair planners.

The fair runs Aug. 13-22. The theme this year is “the cream of the crop,” and the event will have more of an emphasis on agriculture, including farm machinery displays and an interactive children’s exhibit at Gate 2 called Farmer’s Little Helper.

The state gives organizers the authority to spend about $5 million on the Illinois State Fair. That money does not come from the state’s general revenue fund; it comes from fair receipts for everything from Grandstand tickets to parking and admission, according to Jeff Squibb, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

“Because of the way the fair is financed, although the appropriation may be the same as previous years — approximately $5 million — that just gives the fair spending authority,” Squibb said. “If the actual cash does not come in, we can’t spend it.”

Fair manager Amy Bliefnick said planners are conscious of the state’s budget crunch and have gone out of their way to trim costs.

“It’s important for all of us to realize we have to tighten our belts. What we did was just pay attention to where we could cut expenses while not sacrificing the quality of the event,” she said.

“I think the advantage we have this year is that everyone in the state is so aware of the financial crisis we were able to negotiate better prices on some of our entertainment. We cut expenses in the Grandstand and free entertainment stages. We have nine nights of entertainment, and we’re spending less than we did last year for five nights.”

Bliefnick noted the fair’s $5 general admission for adults is the lowest in the nation, making Illinois’ fair an affordable “staycation” for families watching their own bottom lines.

“We want to make sure that the traditions that have made the Illinois State Fair so successful for 150 years are still here. They’re still going to see the butter cow, and they’re still going to see a high-dive show and some of the best livestock in the nation,” she said. “It’s important for families to still be able to enjoy quality time together and continue to do things they’ve done for generations.”

Here are answers to some of the most common questions about the 2010 state fair.

What’s new?

* Farmer’s Little Helper, an interactive children’s exhibit inside Gate 2. Youngsters can learn about the food cycle by gathering grain, feeding animals, planting seeds, gathering eggs and vegetables, selling their harvest and then buying food at the grocery store.

* New animal acts in The Jungle (Happy Hollow), including the Elephant and Tiger Encounter and the Great Bear Show.

* An Illinois Rail Capital of America tent outside the Emmerson Building, where the first lady’s tent previously has been. Visitors can learn about the history and future of rail in Illinois.

* Three new regions represented in Ethnic Village — Cuban, Cajun and Romanian.

* More free entertainment stages for music, magic, competitions and demonstrations.

* Additional truck and tractor pulls in the Arena.

* Nine nights of Grandstand entertainment; last year, there were five.

* Six days of harness racing with noon post times.

* The Sport Court, located in The Jungle, will have daily exercise and dance classes and performances.

What’s missing?

Most notably, the Dock Dogs and the Purina Incredible Dog Team, both of which spent several years at the Gate 2 area of the fair.

“It’s been a great exhibit for us,” Bliefnick said. “Once again, it’s about keeping some things the same and changing some things up. There was a desire to change Gate 2 into more of an agriculture-type area. It was time for the change.”

Also gone are the lumberjack shows in Conservation World.

What’s back?

The dive show, rides, food, live music, bingo, Illinois wine, petting zoo, pony rides, livestock, Sale of Champions, beer tents, piglets on parade, sky rides, tram rides, contests and more.

How long will the Twilight Parade last?

The Twilight Parade the night before the fair opens has lasted too long, fair organizers think.

“It’s just amazing to see the Springfield community get out and enjoy it,” Bliefnick said. “Unfortunately, it’s gotten way too long. It can last up to 3 1/2 hours.”

New rules state all entrants must provide some kind of entertainment value for parade-goers, whether it’s a float, a marching band or something else. A committee then went through the entrants’ applications and selected participants.

“We eliminated a lot of the walking groups,” Bliefnick said. “We’ve given everyone plenty of time that if they wanted to enhance their exhibit and provide more of an entertainment-type thing they could have done that.”

The parade begins at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 12, at Ninth Street and North Grand Avenue. It proceeds north on Ninth Street/Peoria Road and then 11th Street to the Main Gate of the fairgrounds. It then goes through the Main Gate, proceeds down Main Street, takes a left onto Illinois Avenue and ends at the Grandstand.

By the way, it’s preview night, so all carnival rides are $2 between 5 and 11 p.m.

What will the butter cow look like?

“Even I don’t know what the butter cow is going to be until it’s unveiled,” Bliefnick said. “I am not allowed in there.” Sharon BuMann of Central Park, N.Y., is the sculptress again this year.

Can I still milk a cow?

Yes. At the 25/Q Series Barn.

For rednecks

There’s a whole weekend dedicated to you at the Arena. “Redneck Weekend” includes mud bogs and four-wheel burnouts at 6 p.m. Aug. 20 and a demolition derby at 7 p.m. Aug. 21.

For rubbernecks

* Hop on the tractor-pulled tram and take a tour of the fairgrounds. The trams run between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily, and you can board at any of 12 loading areas around the fairgrounds. Cost: between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. $4 for those 13 and older, $1 for children 12 and younger. From 5 to 9 p.m., it’s $1 for everyone.

* Take a ride on the Sky Glide for a birds-eye view of the fair. It runs from the south end of the Grandstand to the Gate 2 area from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

* Park yourself at the high-dive show. This year’s theme is “Gold Rush,” and the show’s finale is a dive from 70 feet up. Show times are 2 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.

* Duck into the Expo Building. Inside you’ll find vendors hawking everything from bejeweled purses and cooking gear to replacement windows and toy tractors.

What’s fried this year?

We know this is what most of you are really interested in. So here’s a sample, taken from the state fair vendors’ list: fried soda, fried green beans, fried candy bars, fried cheesecake, fried cheese on a stick, fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, fried ice cream, fried key lime pie, fried mac and cheese, fried Oreos, fried pickles, fried mushrooms, fried plantains, fried Twinkies and more.

What’s it going to cost?

Admission is $5 for anyone 13 and older and $2 for children between 5 and 12 and seniors 60 and older. Children under 5 get in free. Parking is $7 on the fairgrounds, and there is on-street parking and private lots of varying prices around the perimeter.

After that, what you spend is up to you. Free entertainment abounds, but you can spend as much or as little as you want on carnival rides and food.

“There’s a low admission price, but in addition to that, once they get on the fairgrounds, there is so much they can see and do that is free,” Bliefnick said. “There’s just something free in all corners of the fairgrounds for families to do.”

How much should I bring for rides?

Carnival Midway tickets are $5 for four tickets, $25 for 22 tickets and $60 for 55 tickets. But a couple of options might be easier on your wallet.

* MegaPasses — $60 each. Good for unlimited rides on the Carnival Midway and Adventure Village throughout the fair, including preview night. (Not good for Sky Glide, Giant Slide or Tram, and cost does not include admission to the fairgrounds.) They can be purchased inside the Emmerson Building or by phone with a credit card at 524-7993.

* Children’s Miracle Network ride passes — $25 each. Good for unlimited rides during specific times at the Carnival Midway and Adventure Village. Not available for purchase at the fairgrounds. Look for participating retail outlets in Springfield and the surrounding area. Find out more at www.cmnspringfield.com.

Will that blog be back this year?

The In All Fairness blog on SJ-R.com again this year will provide live updates throughout the fair. You can find links to blog entries, as well as newspaper headlines, photo galleries and other fair information at www.sj-r.com/isf.

Jayette Bolinski can be reached at 788-1530.

Illinoisans of the Day

The Illinois State Fair again this year will honor 10 state residents as Illinoisans of the Day.

Each person was chosen because he or she have made a difference in their community, helped others or did something to better the state.

One honoree will be recognized each day of the fair. They are:

Allen Entwistle of Riverton (Aug. 13)

Martin Vilimek of Bridgeview (Aug. 14)

Eric Lampman of Fairview Heights (Aug. 15)

H.W. “Bill” Wright of Morton (Aug. 16)

Gordon Ropp of Normal (Aug. 17)

Bob Vogelbaugh of Moline (Aug. 18)

Dr. Ken “Doc” Walker of Sherman (Aug. 19)

Wes Pourchot of Greenville (Aug. 20)

Lee Gaule of Springfield (Aug. 21)

Kathryn Baumgartner of Lena (Aug. 22)