OHIO VALLEY — For many, the million-dollar question seems to be whether or not county fairs are going to be held this summer.
The three area counties — Meigs and Gallia counties in Ohio and Mason County in W.Va. — are still proceeding with fair plans while awaiting the official “go-ahead” from state governors.
On Thursday, the Ohio State Fair’s management team made the announcement that the 2020 Ohio State Fair is canceled.
“Instead of coming together in person, we’ll celebrate agriculture and our great state at a distance, with a collection of educational digital content and sharing some of your favorite memories on social media,” the state fair’s statement read.
The statement went on to say, “The Ohio State Fair’s management team, as well as the Ohio Expositions Commission, have been carefully evaluating all available information from state and local health officials, as well as the financial feasibility of a reduced capacity fair, over the last several weeks. Today, the Ohio Expositions Commission voted to cancel the Ohio State Fair in effort to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect the Fair for future generations.”
Also on Thursday, Vinton County — which boarders Meigs and Gallia counties in Ohio — Agricultural Society voted to cancel the 2020 Vinton County Junior Fair. The statement from the fair board said, “Due to the increased cost of operations and new mandates it was not financially feasible to operate the fair.” The statement then read that they were going to plan for a “better” 2021 fair.
The Jackson County, W.Va, extension office also released a statement earlier this week that the fair board made a decision to cancel the 2020 Jackson County Junior Fair for similar reasons. The statement released by the extension office read, “The Jackson County Jr. Fair Board voted that all 2020 4-H and FFA Graduating Seniors will be eligible to (sell) at the 2021 JCJF livestock sale.”
Nearby Athens and Jackson counties in Ohio both made announcements of alternate fair schedules with no amusement rides and making livestock shows the priority.
Mason County Fair Board Vice President Brian Billings said that the board has made no decision either way on its 2020 Mason County Fair. The board will be meeting on Monday, June 1 and Billings expects this will be the main topic of discussion by the board. Billings said they will release information to the public as soon as a decision has been made.
Wes Karr, Meigs County Fair Board president, expressed his devastation after hearing the news of the Ohio State Fair cancellation. Karr said the board is still planning for a full fair in Meigs County for 2020. Karr noted that Meigs County still has the lowest number of positive cases in the state.
“A lot of times, what works in Columbus isn’t always best for rural Southeastern Ohio,” Karr said. “I’m fully prepared to advocate for allowing the Meigs County Fair to continue as normal as possible.”
Karr said he is backed by the county fair board to continue planning until their are told to implement other plans or cancel the fair completely. Karr said the board’s main concern is safety, but they feel canceling the 2020 fair is not best for the county.
“As always, our top priority will be 4-H and livestock shows, but really, the fair is only the fair with all participants from 4-H to entertainment, carnival rides, concessionaires, truck and tractor pulls, etc.,” Karr said. “I feel all this can be accomplished in an outdoor setting with common sense precautions.”
Tim Massie, Gallia County Fair Board Secretary, said during the May meeting, the board discussed COVID-19 and how it would affect the 2020 fair.
“At this time, the Fair Board is committed to providing an opportunity if at all possible for our exhibitors to show and display the projects that are the result of this year’s work,” Massie said. “Hopefully, as the summer progresses, a normal fair will be able to be conducted as in the past but as the health concerns continue to evolve, it may have to be reduced to a another format such as a series of one day shows during the week of the fair where projects could be shown and market projects sold.”
Massie said a more informed decision will be made by the board after Gov. Mike DeWine releases his plan for Ohio Fairs.
“Regardless of the final decision, the health and safety of junior fair participants will always be our first priority,” Massie said. “The Fair Board will work closely with the Gallia County Health Department, the Ohio Fair Managers Association, the Ohio Department of Agricultural and any other appropriate agencies to insure that the necessary health and safety guidelines are utilized.”
Many county educators and 4-H volunteers have been encouraging families and 4-H members to consider all outcomes when moving forward with their projects. As stressed by many, the family’s budget should be discussed when making the decision of whether or not to purchase livestock animals for the fair.
As for now, 4-H meetings and events have been converted to a virtual format — including club meetings, animal Quality Assurance programs, and possibly project judgings.
© 2020 Ohio Valley Publishing, all rights reserved.
Kayla Hawthorne is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, ext. 1992.