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Camping Louisa County Fairgrounds in Iowa

Listen to our full interview with Mallory Smith from the Louisa County Fairgrounds here:

Camping at Louisa County Fairgrounds Iowa

Camp Iowa: I’m talking with Mallory Smith today. She’s with the Columbus Junction Community Development Center, down in Iowa. And we’re going to talk a little bit about the campgrounds at Louisa County Fairgrounds. How’s it going today, Malory?

Mallory Smith: It’s going just fine. And I’ll have to start by saying we get this a lot. It’s the Louisa County Fairgrounds.

Camp Iowa: Louisa County Fairgrounds. I should’ve clarified that before I started blabbing about it.

Mallory Smith: You can start again if you want. I don’t care.

Camp Iowa: No, leave it in. We’ll leave it in. So, I was looking on the website here for the Louisa County Fair, and it’s pretty substantial. You have a lot of activities going on. What kinds of numbers for people do you see each year?

Mallory Smith: For the fair?

Camp Iowa: Yeah.

Mallory Smith: You know what? That’s a terribly difficult thing for us to say, because we don’t charge gate admission.

Camp Iowa: Oh, okay.

Louisa_County_Fair_IOwa
Mallory Smith: It’s a free fair, and so we don’t have anybody staffing the gate and we don’t know how many people are coming and going. You know, it’s certainly in, you know, thousands, I guess, but we don’t really know. And we run these different events during it. There are races, and that brings in a whole other group of people. The cattle show brings in a whole other group of people. There are teen dances in the evening, which will like drain all the teenagers from the county into our fairgrounds.

Camp Iowa: Yeah.

Mallory Smith: The County itself is only twelve thousand. I should say that, so if we all went there; we don’t ever all go. That would be real noticeable if all twelve thousand of us were there at the same time.

Camp Iowa: Right. Right.

Mallory Smith: About half the population of the county. Around six thousand live in the unincorporated area, so live in farm property.

Camp Iowa: Okay.

Mallory Smith: So, you know, we have thirteen 4H groups. So, just the amount of people that are directly involved in agriculture hands-on is fairly significant.

Camp Iowa: Yeah. So, tell me a little bit about the campground over there, and if you guys are all kind of coming in and live around there, most of you guys probably would head home. Who uses the campground?

Mallory Smith: Well, during the fair, it’s full actually. During the fair, people that are in for the fair and showing live stock especially. And this isn’t just at our fairgrounds. It’s in anybody’s fairgrounds. Those people, if they can bring in their RVs and they stay, and so there’s entire families and it would be like a family tree mapping exercise, if you could get above and look down. So, you know, this circle of RVs will represent the Boysen’s Family, and then you can realize who they’re related to because that circle touches another circle next to them.

Camp Iowa: I love that.

Mallory Smith: Yeah, it’s really pretty neat, but I’m actually a city person myself. I’m from Iowa City, but I have learned that camping in an RV is certainly part of that ag lifestyle, because they’re showing here, at our County Fair, but they’re also showing at the State Fair. We have people that show at the Minnesota State Fair. They go out to Denver for cattle shows. So, that whole lifestyle of traveling and showing your animals – that’s just a whole big world.

Camp Iowa: Cool. Yeah, I have some exposure to that. I grew up on a farm up here, in Minnesota, so I know what that’s like to get the animals ready. And for the fair, it’s really a big deal.

Mallory Smith: Yeah.

Camp Iowa: So, it is mostly RV camping? Is there any tenting, or it’s pretty much RV?

Mallory Smith: Actually, you know, it’s individual paths, so it’s whatever people want. Our space is whatever people want to use it for. And I should say this is a brand new campground.

Camp Iowa: Okay.

Fair_Louisa_County_Iowa
Mallory Smith: We just, since last year and this year, had this big bunch of development going on in our fairgrounds. We built a new Youth Center there that’s about a half a million dollar building, because year around, with geothermal,  has the big meeting room, but the fair offices in there and it’s the kitchen. We’ve moved our Farmer’s Market down there, so we have a Farmer’s Market that’s now over as it’s being held on a covered patio, which is just wonderful. So, part of that building project then was to build these bathrooms in that building that include shower stalls and have entrance from the main large meeting room of the Youth Center, but they also have an external entrance that has a timer lock on it.

Camp Iowa: Oh, okay.

Mallory Smith: Which you know, we already had showers on our fairgrounds, but again, most fairgrounds do, because the kids need them for showing animals. So, we already had showers there, but they were – I don’t know – old cinderblock building. So, we’ve built these new ones with the new bathrooms with external entrance with a timer switch on them and, adjacent to that, we put in, on the perimeter of our fairgrounds, 23 camping spots with full hookups.

Camp Iowa: Oh, okay.

Mallory Smith: And so, they run along the western boarder of our fairgrounds, which backs up on a bluff, and so it’s a nice setting.

Camp Iowa: Great.

Mallory Smith: And you know, they’re for use. They have plenty of room. If someone wants to bring in an RV, they are very much set up for that, but the most recent campers that I’ve seen go down there were tent camping actually.

Camp Iowa: Oh, okay. That sounds like a lot of fun. Out of curiosity, what’s your favorite part of the fair? What do you look forward to each year?

Mallory Smith: What do I look forward to? I got to be a judge at the ice cream making contest one time. I look forward to being ask to do that again. That was pretty sweet.

Camp Iowa: Well, hopefully we can get some people to click on this article, and so they can plant the seed for next year.

Mallory Smith: Yes. I was also once the judge for cutest baby, which is a tough position to be put in.

Camp Iowa: Ooh.

Mallory Smith: That was my first year when I worked for the County and came as the Economic Developer. They asked me to be the judge for cutest baby. I think it’s a hazing thing. Everybody does it once.

Camp Iowa: Boy, that would be a really easy way to screw up and burn some bridges in the town, wouldn’t it?

Mallory Smith: Yes, it would. There are lots of subcategories that you create to go with that, but I’d like to add that my cutest baby is a nice-looking little girl now. Right? I just saw her at a school event.

Camp Iowa: So, do you have a really–

Mallory Smith: She’s still awfully cute.

Camp Iowa: You should have a category in there that’s like most interesting looking baby. Something that’s not quite, you know.

Mallory Smith: Right.

Camp Iowa: Leave it a little bit more open ended.

Mallory Smith: It’s definitely an ‘everybody’s a winner’ kind of contest.

Camp Iowa: Exactly.

Mallory Smith: But back to the camping and camping here.

Camp Iowa: Yes.

Mallory Smith: One of the neat things about camping at the fairgrounds is I think all the other things that it puts you in close proximity to. And of course, we’re a the kind of place that I’m going to count a half an hour or less, or even an hour as close proximity. Certainly half an hour. So, the fairgrounds back up to the bluff. There’s a trail on there that connects up to a bluff, which is a county conservation park – 300 acres with trails in this beautiful overlook that looks over a controlled wetlands around the Iowa River, which is probably the best place to see sunrise in Louisa County.

Camp Iowa: Wow.

Mallory Smith: It’s a beautiful, beautiful place. But we’re also then one of the landings for the Iowa River Trail, which connects Iowa City to the Mississippi River. One of the landings for that is in Fredonia, which is just across the river from us. And there’s of course just the whole idea of saying you’re in Fredonia with the Marks Brothers reference is also fun.

Camp Iowa: Yeah.

Mallory Smith: And we’ve got cone marsh just to the north of us, which is the great paddling place, kayak or canoe. We’re actually a great paddling county. We have more miles of shoreline than any other county in Iowa.

Camp Iowa: Wow.

Mallory Smith: Because of having the Cedar and the Iowa come through here and join up with the Mississippi. So, we have those three principle rivers. We have two water trails. Two DNR water trails in the county. There’s one on the Mississippi, and then there’s the Iowa that I mentioned earlier. We have a National Wildlife Refuge, Lake Odessa over on the Mississippi, which would be, I suppose, 20/25 minutes from here. We actually have one of the highest percentages of land in public land, in any county in Iowa. Again, it just has to do with the nature of the rivers and the wetlands that we have down here. So, there’s all of that. Then, add to Columbus Junction, is one of the unique towns in Iowa. There are hundreds of cities in Iowa, and I have to say a lot of them are fairly similar to one another, especially the small towns. Asian, Northern European descent. Settlers. The grain elevator. The diner. We have that, but we also have the big International population. So, since the early 1900s, we’ve had Hispanics settling in the area. We currently have five Mexican restaurants.

Camp Iowa: Yum.

Mallory Smith: And two grocery stores. If you want to count them, there 1900, so that means just our Mexican restaurants alone, we have one for every three hundred people. I mean that’s just a Mexican restaurant.

Camp Iowa: You might have the most per capita in the State, and maybe the midwest.

Mallory Smith: I think so. San Francisco likes to make a big claim about restaurants per capita, and then Fairfield, Iowa does too, but I really do think we’ve got them beat. We sit at about one restaurant – one eating establishment – for 150 to 200 people, and we’re not eating that much. You know, so we’re a food destination.

Camp Iowa: I’m definitely a foodie, so I would love to visit and try all of them.

Mallory Smith: Well, there’s one now called Antojitos Carmen that just opened two months ago, and they’re from LA. They were in business for, I believe, 22 years in LA.

Camp Iowa: Wow.

Mallory Smith: And their family lives here, so their retirement was to move back to Louisa County and open a restaurant. And their food is unbelievably good. I mean just unbelievably good. To the tune that I ate there for supper on Monday and lunch on Tuesday.

Camp Iowa: So, if I’m camping over at the fairgrounds and I get sick of hot dogs, that’s where I want to go.

Mallory Smith: Yes. Yes, unless of course you want Asian food. Our other big ethnic population is Burmese, and specifically from the Chin area – the Chin Hill area of Burma or Myanmar. So, there’s Chin Burmese. We have a population of about five hundred of them. Two grocery stores and a restaurant; one of them is combined grocery store/restaurant. So, yes, you can get really good taco and gorditos, but you can really get really good lahpet thohk, and you probably don’t even know what it is.

Camp Iowa: I don’t, and I get out quite a bit here, in Minneapolis, to eat and try a lot of different things, but I have not heard of that. It sounds like a very diverse town. It’s great.

Mallory Smith: It is. It’s a really diverse place. It’s really interesting. And I think, as far as campgrounds, if you’ve got — we have a supermarket. You know, your standard supermarket, which also always have fresh ginger and avocado, and quantro but it is a standard. It’s called Econo Mart. Then we have these, you know, Asian grocers and Hispanic grocers, so you’re going to be well supplied.

Camp Iowa: Yes.

Mallory Smith: Life will be good.

Camp Iowa: Yes, if for nothing other than to get very adventurous with your campfire recipes.

Mallory Smith: That’s right. And then you can head off. If you’ve got a bike, there are places to get to. Like I say, all those things nearby. And if you’re interested in paddling or bird watching, or hunting or fishing, we’re super well set for that as well.

Camp Iowa: Well, you do a great job at selling the area, and I’m sold.

Mallory Smith: I sold myself and moved here, so I mean it really is true. It really is a nice place. But yeah, it’s unique. It’s interesting. It’s a comfortable place. We have a great system of county campgrounds as a matter of fact, but we didn’t have one in close proximity to Columbus Junction.

Camp Iowa: Oh, okay.

Mallory Smith: There’s the County Conservation Board; has, I believe, thirteen different facilities, and they have wonderful camping throughout. And camping and river access on the Mississippi.

Camp Iowa: They do. I actually talked to Katy over there a couple days ago.

Mallory Smith: Yeah. Yeah, they have great stuff, but this gave us something, you know, over here, which is something that we really needed and really wanted in Columbus Junction. And it’s a natural fit the fairgrounds that kept that facility. You know, to get an awful lot of space down here, you know, I think it’d be a great place to camp.

Camp Iowa: Sure.

Mallory Smith: You know, there’s the old tree overgrowth and that stubborn earth with the Farmer’s Market comes in–

Camp Iowa: Yeah.

Mallory Smith: –once a week and you have all this fresh produce brought to your doorstep.

Camp Iowa: That sounds great.

Mallory Smith: Yeah, it’s lovely.

Camp Iowa: Thank you so much for taking some time out of your morning to talk about all these different things at the Louisa County Fairgrounds as well as in the area around there. It just sounds like a great place to come and hang out.

Mallory Smith: Well, and do come and do that sometime. And it’s also a good place, I should say, for groups. I don’t know if Katy mentioned that, because she’s been involved with some river cleanups.

Camp Iowa: Okay.

Mallory Smith: And so, Chad <inaudible>  is from close to here – an hour away, so we’re certainly, you know, very much in the world of river cleanups. But the Iowa River will have cleanups, and that brings in some groups, and we can accommodate that easily.

Camp Iowa: Okay.

Mallory Smith: The fairgrounds have 23 spots. So, if you’re looking for a group activity, and I have conservations working with people too to, you know, have enough canoes if people want to do a group paddle. We really do lend ourselves to that, and we actually — one of the other big things in the area is Harley Davidson Rallies that happen twice a year roughly on Memorial Day and September on Labor Day. And they will draw up to ten thousand people to a rally, and that facility is actually just – what – five miles or four miles north of town.

Camp Iowa: Okay.

Mallory Smith: And that’s been used. It’s used for other things. It does the Harley Rallies, but there’s also Wine Tastings.

Camp Iowa: Nice.

Mallory Smith: Yeah, a little bit of everything.

Camp Iowa: I love it.

Mallory Smith: Yeah, so come down. Contact my email. I’ll show you around.

Camp Iowa: All right, thank you so much for your time again, Mallory.

Mallory Smith: Yeah, thanks for calling.

Camp Iowa: All right, have a great weekend.

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