Colorado State Fair attendance hits highest numbers in more than a decade despite rain and high temperatures

Shanna Lewis/KRCC News
People going to the carnival at the 2023 Colorado State Fair in Pueblo.

More than half a million people went to the 11-day Colorado State Fair in Pueblo this year. Despite a slow start, thanks in part to a Friday night downpour, 100 degree heat later in the week didn't seem to have an effect.

It’s likely people saw the weather forecast and planned accordingly, said General Manager Scott Stoller, but “we'll never know. There's really no way to dive into that unless we knock on every door in Colorado and ask them if they deferred (their visit) or decided not to come.”

Tickets sold out or were near capacity for concerts, rodeos and motorsports like the demolition derby and monster truck show. Stoller said the entertainment lineup, which included rocker Pat Benetar, comedian Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias and country music’s Lady A, along with discounted ticket pre-sales, helped draw people.

“We saw so much success this year,” he said. “There's some years that are harder than others and I can tell you with the heat in the rain, we thought this would be one of them, but I guess good programming and improvements overcome that.”

Stoller said all the numbers aren’t in yet, but based on early indicators the fair’s mission-based metrics like number of exhibitors in the livestock and general entry competitions will be good too.

The annual junior livestock sale raised more than $470,350 in auctioning more than 100 animals, including the grand champion market steer which sold for $50,000.

Food revenue was up about nine percent according to Stoller, and crowds lined up for a handmade fair favorite: corn dogs.

“They liked watching the dipping and the whole process and how fresh they came out,” he said, and that stand was a “huge success … people seem to have an appetite for corn dogs.”

Six food trucks featuring Colorado sourced ingredients vied for the annual Governor’s Plate award during the fair. Stoke Pizza won for its wood-fired chorizo, elote, and green chile pizza and Papa Mario’s Grilled Cheese was chosen as the People’s Choice winner for a third year in a row. That award was  for a roast beef sandwich with onions, green chile, and jalapeños. Both trucks are Pueblo based. 

Other competitors included: 

  • Anne's A La Mode of Edgewater with an apple pie with Pueblo green chili and aged white cheddar, 
  • The Smoke ’N’ CEO of Grand Junction with a green chile slider smash burge;
  •  Araujo’s Taqueria  of Pueblo with a samosa stuffed with beans, ground beef, cheese, and Pueblo green chile, served with a vegan side of calabacitas (squash) and corn;
  •  Grateful Planet Foods of Castle Rock with a plant-based French Dip sandwich with seitan proteins.

Despite the high attendance, Stoller said carnival revenue was down about five percent this year because of the rain on opening weekend.

The 509,156 tickets sold this year is the most since 2011 when that figure was 515,995. The first three days of the fair had 10 percent lower attendance than last year, but big crowds after that made up for it, including more than 77,000 people who showed up for the annual Fiesta Day celebration on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend–often the day each year with the highest turnout. 

Shanna Lewis/KRCC News
Colorado State Fair attendees take cover from the rain in Pueblo on Friday, Aug. 25, 2023.

The total fair attendance ended up ten percent higher than last year.

Stoller said the new improvements made at the fairgrounds as part of a 20-year master plan were also beneficial, including a new west side entrance and plaza. He said he expects permanent lighting and electrical service in that area to go in before next summer.

Work will also get underway on more updates, some of which may be partially completed by next year, according to Stoller. They involve renovations of the historic 4-H auditorium and exhibit hall, which will cost $1.5 million, and a $2 million makeover of the Colorado Building, where agriculture and other exhibits are usually displayed, to house the fine arts competition in the future.

The stone Palace of Agriculture is also slated to get a new heating, ventilation and cooling system to replace the existing swamp cooler, along with a new roof and windows. The estimate for that project is around $6 million. 
Most of the funding for this set of projects is from federal COVID relief dollars coming via the state.

Longer term plans include a $40 million capital campaign for an 80,000 square foot pavilion that would replace the existing goat, sheep and swine facilities. Stoller expects that campaign to take about five years.

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