It’s the big brick icon, just inside the Grand Avenue Entrance on Des Moines’ east side. For most Iowa State Fair goers, it seems, the DNR building is either their first stop…or the last place to hit on their way out.
The main attraction each year is the wrap-around aquarium in the center of the building. (Remember, counter-clockwise works best.) On your lap around the interior, you’ll see the kids’ archery range and stations with park rangers, conservation rangers and other staffers fielding questions about their specialties. Keep your eyes up and you’ll spot the taxidermist’s mount of the cougar, shot last year in a backyard a couple miles from the fairground. Licenses and Iowa Outdoors magazine subscriptions are on sale, too.
Sidetrack out to the courtyard, and immerse yourself in the outdoors; even if just for a few minutes. New this year is an ATV/snowmobile simulator, with the vehicle resting on the simulator; providing a real life feel for whomever is on board. Besides the popular waterfowl pond, there will be three to five daily presentations at the northwest corner stage (note: shade and seating available!).
Courtyard activity will hinge on a theme, most days…running from 10 until 3 o’clock. Geology Rocks! kicks off the fair, August 8. Bring along that mystery rock or fossil you found. ‘Rock Doc’ Dr. Ray Anderson, from the DNR’s geology and water resources bureau in Iowa City will identify it and also talk about meteors and other rocky topics.
Each Friday, the theme centers around fishing. On Saturday, the 10th, the DNR’s Healthy and Happy Outdoors (H2O)
program gets the call. The new program is aimed at getting Iowans outdoors; especially in Iowa’s state and county parks and wildlife areas. Participants can register their activities online and be eligible for outdoor-themed prizes.
Two of prize packages will be presented that day.
“We will have yoga in the grass, a bird watching station, even something about bugs,” says Julie Sparks, of the DNR’s communications bureau. “We’ll be collecting email addresses from people who want to learn more about H2O; where to go online to register their outdoor activities…and be eligible for future drawings.”
Up a Creek is the theme on the 11th and 15th and it’s all about paddling and water trails. “Lots of hands on activity; lifejacket relays, knot tying, identifying equipment and parts of the water craft and information about water trails,” says Sparks.
“ReusaPalooza, an eco-craft make-and-take will be happening in the courtyard the last Saturday of the Fair;” and of course “Extreme Sunday—the last day—will again feature birdhouse building. We expect kids and volunteers to put together close to 250…and probably be done well before 3 o’clock.”
In between, spread across the fairgrounds, are the midway, grandstand, stage shows, livestock barns, street vendors, Butter Cow, various food on sticks and all the other attractions that pull in a million of us each year.
The fair runs August 8-18.