Although COVID-19 restrictions made the 2020 Fulton County Jr. Fair a quieter and more subdued event, the precautions apparently kept participants safe, and the animal sales proved more profitable than last year.
Held Sept. 4-10, the Jr. Fair proceeded without the fanfare of the county’s full annual fair. In an unprecedented move, Governor Mike DeWine canceled Ohio county fairs this year amid the grip of the coronavirus pandemic. And though he approved the continuation of junior fairs, the resulting stripped-down versions were subject to strict state regulations that affected every aspect.
That included the number of attendees, which the Fulton County Jr. Fair limited to 2,300 immediate family members, fair board and auxiliary members, volunteers, and a limited number of food vendors, all of whom were issued wristbands prior to the fair that were mandatory for admittance.
Inside the fairgrounds, masks and social distancing were also mandatory per an agreement between the fair board and the Fulton County Health Department. Announcements were aired about every half-hour reminding all participants and visitors to adhere to the rules.
Nearly a month later, there have been no reports of anyone who attended the Jr. Fair contracting the virus, said Dennis Wyse, interim Fulton County Fair Board president.
“The health department was out there every day to make sure things were going good, and they were happy. They monitored and talked to us, and they were pleased how it went.”
The major glitch during fair week occurred Monday, when Wyse discovered that during the swine exhibition few, if any, of those in attendance were wearing masks. Wyse announced that those without masks had to leave the building.
“I basically threatened them I’d have the sheriff clear it out if they didn’t,” he said. “I’ve got to credit the people who were there. They did what they were told immediately and they made it happen. We could have been shut down if it wouldn’t have been corrected. And a lot of them came up to me afterward and said, ‘You did what you had to do. You were right.’”
In another incident on that Monday, bleachers at the horse exhibition were cleared when social distancing became a problem.
“It ended up those were the only glitches…and they were resolved immediately, and we had no trouble the rest of the way,” Wyse said. “We did what we had to do to get it through, and if that’s all that happened I’m tickled that that’s all it was. Looking back, it was kind of minor when you look at the overall picture.”
Still, the general atmosphere of the Jr. Fair was quite different from those of the past, he said. The families of competitors staked out territory on the fairgrounds and remained there when not involved in activities. Some families left the fairgrounds after their competitions were over.
“A lot of it was – one word might be boring,” Wyse said. “There was nothing to do, like a normal fair. There just wasn’t much maneuvering around, really, once they were there. (But) we had a lot of exhibitors, kids, and parents tell us it wasn’t like any other fair but they were grateful they were able to do what they could do. It was better than nothing.”
Wyse said Jr. Fair Chairman Neil Callender told him he has never before received so much appreciation from participants and their families. Several 4-H members sent the fair board letters, expressing their gratitude.
“They knew the circumstances, that it could have been shut down any time or not done at all,” Wyse said.
He said the main objective of the fair was to give the youth a venue where they could sell their animals. And that proved to be a profitable move. On the fair’s sale day the average price participants got for their animals was $60 higher than at last year’s fair. No final figures were available.
Callender, who has chaired the Jr. Fair for eight years, said much more planning was necessary this year due to COVID-19 regulations. “It went better than I anticipated but it was very different,” he said. “There wasn’t a midway, none of that. It was different, very quiet. I’ll take the normal fair any day of the week. Hopefully, this is not a new normal.”
However, he was pleased with the outcome. “We didn’t have any problems – I haven’t heard of any problems. And the sale went better than we anticipated,” Callender said.
Wyse said in his 10 years with the Fair he’s never experienced anything like this year’s circumstances.
“Nothing’s been close to this, and I hope we never see it again,” he said. “It was really disheartening for the board to have to go this way, but it was their only option. Looking forward to next year, hoping it’s back to normal.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.