As it is every August in Springfield, the excitement and anticipation of the Illinois State Fair is permeating the air.

For the past few days, we have known that soon our city will be filled with kids eager to zoom down the big slide, go on carnival ride after carnival ride, scale the climbing wall or cast a rod in the fishing pond. Fans of music from country to rap to metal have been buying tickets in anticipation of a magical night in the Grandstand. Culinary delights — from the always-favorite mini doughnuts to cheese curds to just about any food on a stick you can imagine — will be available throughout the 366 acres of the fairgrounds.

That anticipation will burst out this evening, when the Twilight Parade marches through the north side of Springfield. Even though many of us are still getting used to the "new" parade route, we're sure many of you already know where you want to watch the spectacle go by. Kids are ready to line the streets to fill their bags with candy. Politicians are preparing to shake hands and kiss babies. Organizations big and small are eager to debut the floats they have been working on.

Yet the heart of the fair remains its agricultural roots. It's most obvious when you see the animal barns, and spot the kids who have been working hard with their pigs, cattle and sheep in hopes of wowing the judges (and maybe making a nice profit at the Governor's Sale of Champions). It's a wonderful reminder that Illinois is a hub for ag, and is consistently a leader in corn and soybean production. We boast quite a bit of wheat, cattle and hogs too. The state fair proudly celebrates the state's agricultural tradition through the many exhibits scattered throughout the grounds, as well as the must-see butter cow that debuted Wednesday.

The Illinois State Fair is a part of Springfield's identity. There is pride in having the fair in our backyard. That pride will increase this year as we take in the improvements that have happened at the fairgrounds. More than $12 million has been spent to refurbish the Coliseum, which will again host horse shows and other events for the first time in three years. Other infrastructure improvements are also obvious, such as the new roofs for the Dairy Building, Emmerson Building and several barns, and especially the newly paved streets. While much renovation work remains, these are welcome improvements.

And, importantly, the fair is a huge economic boon for Springfield. The fair, which annually for the past few years has drawn in at least 345,000 people, has a huge economic impact on our city. A study done a few years ago by the Regional Economics Applications Laboratory at the University of Illinois found that it contributed $86 million in business volume to the local economy.

This year's fair has a theme of "Building Our Future," a fitting name when there is so much to celebrate at the fairgrounds. Given that the state fair is in your backyard, we hope you and your family are making plans to check out this year's festivities. The memories that generations of families have made at the fair are priceless. But those can only be cherished in the future if we make plans to attend today.

The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Thursday