For the general public, it may appear as though the Eau Claire and Dunn county fairs this year are yet another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But for 4-H, FFA and other youth exhibitors, all is not lost.
While fair operations are being significantly modified in both counties, Eau Claire and Dunn county youth will still get the chance to display the projects they’ve been working on likely since last fair season.
These fairs will again give 4-H’ers and other youth the opportunity to work on the four elements of positive youth development — generosity, mastery, independence and belonging — and provide them with deadlines some might need to make progress on their projects, said Rachel Hart-Brinson, 4-H program educator for Eau Claire County.
“In addition, we know how important recognition can be in motivating people to continue working on life skills,” Hart-Brinson said. “The fair provides a wonderful venue for the recognition of the work youth put into projects, as well as an opportunity to receive feedback that will improve the project the next time around.”
With many fairs and other events, including some livestock shows, canceled, having a fair at all was “important for kids to have something to look forward to,” said Debbie Kitchen, Eau Claire County Fair coordinator.
For both fairs, only exhibitors and their immediate families within the same household will be permitted to be on the fairgrounds and in the buildings.
The exception to that rule for the Eau Claire County Fair will be during the livestock auction, scheduled for Aug. 1, which will be open to potential bidders and buyers who sign a waiver and are issued a wristband, Kitchen said.
Dunn County Fair auctions are canceled, however, with exhibitors being giving options including marketing and selling privately or keeping the animal for their family, according to guidelines.
As of July 8, 57 of 75 state-aided Wisconsin state, county and district fairs had canceled, postponed or modified their fair seasons amid the pandemic, according to the Wisconsin Association of Fairs website. The majority of that list is described as canceled.
For those moving forward in a modified fashion, there isn’t a set formula to abide by, with each fair determining which aspects of their fair to go ahead with.
But the Eau Claire County Fair, this year scheduled for July 27-Aug. 2, already differs from many fairs that feature carnivals and grandstand entertainment in that the Eau Claire County Fair is already strictly exhibitor and youth only, albeit open to public viewing in a normal year, said Kitchen.
Closing the fair to the public will indeed still be a change, but “health and safety is our priority,” Kitchen said.
While some have expressed discomfort with being at the fair this year and the fair is respecting the decision of any who decide to opt out, they have also received some “very positive comments that we are moving forward,” Kitchen said.
The changes to the Dunn County Fair, which does typically feature a carnival, grandstand entertainment, food trucks and more, may seem a little more stark, but going exhibitor-only was the maximum allowed under a resolution passed by the Dunn County Board of Supervisors in late May, which ordered the fair to “consist only of 4-H and other youth-group activities that can be conducted remotely.”
The resolution further stated that “no activity associated with the County Fair shall be open to the general public.”
The fair, scheduled for July 22-26, agreed to comply with the order and recommendations from the Dunn County Department of Public Health.
In a statement after the resolution was passed, Deb Gotlibson, president of the Dunn County Fair Board said, “Our hearts are heavy knowing we cannot gather for our annual celebration as we have during the past 134 years, but now and always, the health and safety of our guests, participants and community is our highest priority.”
Those still allowed on the Dunn and Eau Claire county fairgrounds will be required to abide by a series of published guidelines each fair is implementing based on health department recommendations and mandates.
Both fairs will be requiring widespread mask usage, and only those issued wristbands will be allowed to enter the fairgrounds. Both fairs’ guidelines instruct exhibitors and their families to leave the grounds when they are not exhibiting.
Face-to-face judging will be limited or eliminated entirely, and exhibitors were required to register their entries through an online platform this year.
Both fairs have complete sets of guidelines on their websites and Facebook pages. Additional updates or changes will be posted in those locations as well.
Much of the Eau Claire County Fair will be livestreamed or otherwise posted on Facebook, Kitchens said. They are also looking at doing a Facebook auction with the items they have for a silent auction and are moving forward with the Friends of the Fair raffle.
“All in all, we’re trying to do the best we can,” Kitchen said.
Both fairs hope to be back in full-swing in 2021.
“We look forward to brighter, better days ahead when we can gather again to celebrate all that is exceptional about Dunn County,” Gotlibson said in a statement. “Until then, stay safe, be well and support each other.”
For updates on Wisconsin county and district fairs, visit https://www.wifairs.com/p/getconnected/covid-19-update.