Dennis Wyse will tell you that configuring the 2020 Fulton County Junior Fair has been nearly as daunting as planning the entire Fulton County Fair in years past.
The continued threat of the coronavirus pandemic has made the Junior Fair the only feasible portion of the annual fair festivities to move ahead this year. Wyse, Fulton County Fair Board president-at-large, said it will be held Sept. 4-10 but to expect several major tweaks.
Foremost will a be a tight rein on attendance. Only FFA and 4-H competitors and their immediate families will be admitted. That means no grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles or friends.
“At this point, Mom, Dad, brothers, and sisters are the only ones who can watch,” Wyse said. Those family members will receive wristbands prior to the fair to permit their admittance. Only two entrances to the fairgrounds will be open, and anyone without a wristband will be turned away. Sheriff’s deputies are likely to be present to enforce the rule.
Wyse said he’s heard grumbling over the limitations “but our hands are tied. We’re trying to do something the best we can. Those are the cards that are dealt.”
The Fair Board is looking into the possibility of live-streaming the competitions online so extended family members and friends can watch them.
During the animal competitions only 10 presenters at a time will be permitted in the show ring. Once they leave, the area will be disinfected before the next group of presenters arrives. Social distancing will be practiced throughout the fair, as well as Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s mask mandate, if it’s still in effect. Sanitizer will be available at multiple locations, and restrooms be receive continual cleanings.
Because state health restrictions seem to change almost daily, all of the planned precautions are probable but still pending through the county health department, Wyse said.
And some events will not held in their usual time slots. Wyse said the cancellation of the main fair caused scheduling changes to ensure judges for Junior Fair competitions would be available.
He said all of the precautions could change the overall atmosphere attendees are accustomed to but they’re necessary if the Junior Fair is to take place. “We’re trying to do it for the kids, give them a chance to compete,” he said. ““We were supposed to follow what our local health care said. If (participants are) scared, then stay home. You kind of have to use your own judgment.”
More than 800 FFA and 4-H members initially signed to compete this year but Wyse said less are expected. He said once the pandemic took hold in early spring some members decided to forego their intended animal projects for fear the Junior Fair would be canceled.
In fact, the Junior Fair portion of the state’s county fairs was the only one the governor pushed to be held, Wyse said. Some Ohio counties forged ahead with a full fair agenda, but the Fulton County Fair Board couldn’t see that happening locally.
”Under our circumstances…there was no way we could do the social distancing,” he said.
Some counties that have held fair activities flouted the restrictions DeWine placed on them. That led him to contact fair boards across the state, including Fulton County’s, with a warning. “If he hears any more about it he could shut the rest of them down,” Wyse said.
The only vestige of the full Fulton County Fair likely to be available at the Junior Fair is the pork producers’ food stand, which will sell only sausage sandwiches. The dairy and cattle associations declined the offer to operate booths.
However, fair food became available at the fairgrounds two weeks ago and remains available over the next two weekends. Six or more of the fair’s annual food vendors open shop Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., in an attempt to satisfy fair food cravings. Wyse said purchases are strictly carryout; dining is not permitted on-site.
He said the logistics of holding a Junior Fair during the pandemic are so challenging the Fair Board has had to meet multiple times to lock them down.
“I’m not too worried about it at this point,” he said. “Things can be done pretty safely. We’ll have a lot more control. It’s the first time doing it this way, and the first time’s a good learning experience.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.