Amid pandemic restrictions, Park County Fair to be drastically scaled back

Posted 5/21/20

With no clear end in sight to the current limits on large gatherings, this year’s Park County Fair will have to be dramatically scaled back, fair leaders decided Tuesday. There will be no …

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Amid pandemic restrictions, Park County Fair to be drastically scaled back


With no clear end in sight to the current limits on large gatherings, this year’s Park County Fair will have to be dramatically scaled back, fair leaders decided Tuesday. There will be no carnival rides, pig mud wrestling, demolition derby or any other grandstand entertainment at the 2020 fair.

Instead of a five-day event packed with entertainment and exhibits, the fair will consist of two days of market shows, a junior livestock sale for local youth and perhaps an open air concert featuring local bands, under the tentative plans discussed Tuesday.

“This is the best we can do with how the situation is now,” said Park County Fair Advisory Board Member Teresa Merager.

Under the state’s current public health order limiting gatherings of people in confined spaces, Park County Commissioner Lee Livingston said effectively none of the usual fair events could go forward.

“I don’t see how you can ethically say, ‘Well, we can have as many people as we want because it’s outdoors and it’s not confined,’” Livingston told the board. “I think legally you probably could, but … the intent of the order is to keep large groups from congregating.”

It is possible that Gov. Mark Gordon’s administration will ease those restrictions by fair time in late July; Gordon said last week that he hoped conditions would allow for county fairs this summer — and the state bumped up the maximum group size from 10 people to 25.

Fair leaders had pushed their regular meeting back from last week to Tuesday in hopes that they’d have more clarity on the rules that will be in place for the coming months, but “there’s no word yet,” said Livingston, who’s been in regular contact with the governor’s office.

“They don’t have any crystal ball on what we’re going to be looking at for group sizes,” he said.

Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin has predicted the state’s cap on large groups will be “probably the last rule to go,” given the risk of COVID-19 being transmitted to numerous people at one time.

Meanwhile, fair staff and board members said they couldn’t wait any longer to make their plans. Many arrangements need to be finalized sooner rather than later, from hiring staff to finalizing contracts with entertainers and judges to informing the general public.

Even if Gov. Gordon relaxes the cap on large groups between now and the fair, “we’re too late,” said Board Chairman Tiffany Brando.


Events canceled

There will be no static exhibits displayed or judged at the fair this year — though 4-H may host a virtual show — and events like the traditional headlining concert and carnival simply will not happen.

Park County Events Administrator Audra Jewell said Carnival Midway Attractions had submitted plans to space customers apart on rides and in lines, have all employees wear masks and gloves, offer hand sanitizer and wipe down the attractions every hour.

However, Jewell thought once-an-hour cleaning was not enough. Commissioner Dossie Overfield also wondered, “What kind of a crowd are you going to have?”

She noted there would be fewer people on the carnival rides given the spacing — and potentially fewer people coming to the fair anyway.

“It doesn’t look good,” Overfield said.

Board member Shane Smith described himself as “completely defeated.”

“It’s looking pretty realistic like the thing I thought was going to be the worst scenario [for the fair] is going to be the best case,” Smith said.

Under the board’s current plans, only market animals would be shown at the fair over two or, if necessary, three days. The Junior Livestock Sale would follow at 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 25, perhaps with online bidding; both the fair board and the livestock sale board have said they’re committed to giving local youth a chance to show and sell their animals.

“... it is very important to those kids, especially as much as they’ve been working with [their animals], to actually have that final product,” Merager said.

Fair board members also said they’d like to offer a concert on the grass at the fairgrounds featuring local musicians, for either free or discounted admission. Ideally, a handful of Park County food vendors would be on hand, along with some alcohol sales.

However, the prospect of continued COVID-19-related restrictions loomed over the logistics. For instance, how many people will be allowed on the grounds at once? How many family members can accompany their children to a livestock show?

“This is going to be hell,” said Board Member Christy Muecke, as she wondered how she might be able to help her three children during their shows.


Uncertain times

If the cap on large gatherings is still in place at fair time, board members plan to seek a variance to allow the livestock shows to take place in person. Otherwise, virtual shows could be possible, in which youth would have to showcase their animals via some kind of video format.

Smith was unexcited about that idea. If a judge can’t get his or her hands on an animal, “prettiest is going to win,” Smith said. “It’s a beauty contest at that point.”

He compared a virtual market show to a virtual hunt or virtual fishing.

“I just … I can’t imagine the work these kids are putting into it and having it be a virtual [show],” Smith said.

However, everyone agreed it would be better than nothing.

“There have been a lot of things that have been canceled and changed; they’ve had to adapt,” Merager said of local youth. She predicted that the children and teens will be thankful to have something, even though “it’s not what anybody wants.”

In addition to dealing with the pandemic and restrictions, Park County is facing the prospect of a tight budget, as oil prices have fallen and the tourist season has gotten off to a slow start. After cutting back on this year’s event, fair board members hope that commissioners will allow some money to roll over and be put toward the 2021 fair, which will be the county’s 110th.

“We might just take it [the funding] from you and never give it back to you,” Commissioner Livingston deadpanned. “But there’s a potential it could be utilized for a bigger, grander event next year, with it being your 110th.”

Three other county fairs across Wyoming have already announced they will hold livestock shows this year and essentially nothing else, Jewell said. As for the Wyoming State Fair, it remains set to take place on Aug. 11-15 in Douglas, said State Fair Board Member Joe Bridges of Powell. State fair leaders, he said, are closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation and working on a health and safety plan to ensure the safety of all involved.