The days are a tad shorter. The kids are back in school. There's a hint of fall in the air. The season for summer fairs and festivals is nearly at an end.
For the countless Iowans and others who love county fairs, however, one big event remains - the Clay County Fair.
The fair that opens in Spencer Saturday and runs through Sept. 16 is not just any fair. It is by far the largest county fair in Iowa and ranks among the grandest agricultural expositions in the nation.
The members of the Clay County Fair Association had big plans for their fair when it launched more than nine decades ago. That first fair was the largest county fair held in Iowa its inaugural year and organizers have laid claim to that status in many of the years that followed.
In 2011, attendance was a record 327,917 and has not dropped below the 300,000 mark any year in the last decade.
More than a half century ago Life Magazine dubbed the Clay County Fair the ''World's Greatest County Fair.'' It deserved that accolade then and continues to rank among the most popular and impressive rural-oriented exhibitions in North America.
The agricultural focus of this splendid fair is part of what draws the crowds, but it offers pleasures to suit all ages and attractions to appeal to diverse interests.
The Clay County Fair has a well-deserved reputation as a venue where some of the biggest names in the entertainment world perform. The list of artists who have been on stage in Spencer is impressive. Bob Hope, Barbara Mandrell, Reba McEntire, Pat Boone, Lee Greenwood, Davey Jones and Bill Cosby represent just a small sampling of the show-business superstars who have wowed those fortunate enough to have taken time to come to the fair.
This year's star performers will include LeAnn Rimes, Chris Young, the Oak Ridge Boys, Air Supply and Rick Springfield, Casting Crowns and Jeff Foxworthy.
The thousands of people who will pass through the fair's gates in the days just ahead are drawn to this sumptuous event for reasons that are as diverse as the attendees. Part of the fair's charm is the immense variety it offers. A few examples include:
World class entertainers.
An exceptional array of food choices.
Agricultural and livestock exhibits and competitions that are hard to equal.
A carnival few fairs even attempt to match.
A classic car display.
One of the country's most extraordinary HO gauge railroads.
The Clay County History Museum.
4-H auditorium presentations.
The Ag Learning Center.
The Arts Barn.
Vintage tractor displays.
An antique gallery.
And, of course, the list could go on and on.
If you've been to a Clay County Fair, it's unlikely you'll need much encouragement to pay a return visit. If you are among those who have yet to partake of the Clay County Fair experience, now's the time to make plans to head for Spencer. You'll be glad you did.