The most popular handout at the Minnesota State Fair this year is not the yardsticks from Machinery Hill, the free water at the Culligan Water hydration station, or even the commemorative 2021 Minnesota State Fair button itself.
I believe it may very well be the iconic buffalo plaid bag from our very own Visit Bemidji display located in the Education Building.
Visit Bemidji is making its debut this year at the Great Minnesota Get-Together, which started last week and runs through Sept. 6, and they are hitting it out of the park, or in this case, the fairgrounds.
Once word got out after the first bags were released on Thursday, chaos ensued. Fairgoers lined up more than a half-hour in advance waiting for the next release time and a chance to get their very own piece of Bemidji. To control bag distribution, set times throughout the day have been designated to ensure these popular bags will be available throughout the fair.
Along with the Visit Bemidji bags, which have seven local sponsors printed on them, there are Babe the Blue Ox foam horns, Paul Bunyan or Babe the Blue Ox stick fans, Bemidji Area Chamber magazines and Paul Bunyan Trail maps are also being handed out.
Manning the booth are Visit Bemidji Executive Director Josh Peterson, Assistant Director Brady Laudon and a rotating handful of Bemidji volunteers, including myself. The display also has a very popular large green screen which allows fairgoers to transform themselves in front of a variety of spots in Bemidji. Popular backgrounds include standing in front of Paul and Babe, sitting in a Dragon Boat with paddles, or posing in front of a Bemidji State hockey net with a goalie stick.
The smiles are large and plentiful as young and old leave the display with a photo already texted or emailed to their phones within seconds. According to Josh, nearly 1,600 photos had been taken in front of the green screen just in the first four days at the fair. By the time you read this, I'm sure that number will be much higher.
The coolest thing is to see the buffalo plaid bags being carried and Babe the Blue Ox foam horns worn by all ages throughout the entire fairgrounds.
Hundreds and hundreds of fairgoers, which will be thousands by the time you are reading this, stop by the display and range from curious people who want to know things like, “What’s there to do in Bemidji?” “How is the beer at Bemidji Brewing?” “How far is it from here?” “How is the fishing?” “How is the Beaver hockey team going to be this year?” Or they just want to let you know they either lived there, graduated from BSU or how they love coming to Bemidji.
We know displays and gifts come with a sizable cost, but for 12 days the chance to visit with thousands of people and introduce them to Bemidji hospitality and what our area has to offer, this project has a chance to pay huge dividends in the not-so-distant future.
Kudos to Josh and his team as well as the sponsors and volunteers for representing and promoting our great area. Here is hoping that Bemidji will always be part of the Great Minnesota Get-Together from here on out.
Todd Keute is the publisher at the Pioneer and can be contacted at email@example.com