LARAMIE, Wyo. | UNIVERSITY OF WYOMING – The wave of county fairs spreading across summer calendars met the wave of coronavirus cases weaving through Wyoming — and fairs seemed to have won, at least according to early reports.
Most county fairs are wrapping up this week, with Teton, Park, Platte and Converse counties completing their fairs more than a week ago, and Natrona’s fair finished by mid-July.
COVID-19 considerations forced changes to normal routines. One 4-H educator said he was humbled by the combined efforts in his county to meet the new requirements. Another said the circumstances of those going beyond to hold the fair were too many to name.
University of Wyoming Extension Educator Joddee Jacobsen, of Natrona County, notes instances of many 4-H’ers helping one another and the good spirits of 4-H families, friends and volunteers who took the challenge and ran with it.
“The incredible part is that we were able to step back, evaluate and identify the difficulty, and then look for, figure out and find a solution,” Jacobsen says. “We relied on our positive outlook and American ingenuity. And it got the job done.”
Many fairs required masks for 4-H’ers and social distancing, and hand sanitizers were available. The social distancing eventually meant the same for livestock, too.
Livestock judging that usually took place inside arenas moved outside.
“Nearly all 4-H fair events changed to some degree in either location, duration or method,” says UW 4-H Extension Educator Glenn Owings, of Teton County, where judging events were moved to various parts of the fairgrounds to minimize contact and reduce the number of people indoors.
He also developed a staggered feeding/animal care schedule to reduce the number of people inside the livestock barn at a given time. The decision whether to house livestock inside occurred only about two weeks before the fair. Once there was a decision, a frantic dash ensued to make things happen.
“These challenges created an outstanding number of logistical challenges to work through with the fair office, leaders, staff and the fair board,” he says.
Owings says the fair had a more community-oriented feel. There was no carnival, so kids and parents spent more time together in their family groups.
Todd Paisley, a senior 4-H’er in Platte County, also felt a bigger sense of community at that fair.
“It went way better because it showed the ag community can still come together and do the right thing and put on a fair,” says Paisley, who exhibited two market steers and won reserve champion in Platte County. “It provided a sense of community.”
Paisley says he was worried that, when school let out in March, there might not be a fair. He had already put in the money to buy the animals and followed through.
“It’s not just about showing them,” he adds. “It’s about doing the right thing for the animal.”
Owings says many noted the traditional aspects of fair were once again highly valued — livestock projects, animal care, family time and hands-on static exhibitions.
Many went beyond to make the fair happen. When one sewing leader was unable to continue meeting for health reasons, another met several extra full days to make sure the kids could finish their projects. Livestock leaders helped haul shavings, organize paperwork and wrangle a loose steer in the middle of the night.
“I was humbled by their efforts and support,” Owings says.
Park County featured only livestock shows, notes UW 4-H Extension Educator Tycee Mohler. 4-H’ers brought in their animals just for the show, left and then brought them back for the animal sale.
“Families were thrilled to have the opportunity, and 4-H’ers were excited to show and put their best efforts forward,” she says. “The entire community showed up in support of one another.”
Mohler notes numerous instances of 4-H’ers helping one another without being asked. The 2020 Park County junior livestock sale was a record-breaker, showing the community’s support of its youth, she adds.
Hannah Swanbom, interim UW 4-H extension educator in Converse County, notes the livestock sale was up 35 percent from last year.
“Even though we had to make some changes, it seemed like the experience for the kids and families was similar to previous years,” she says. “We did have fewer numbers in the various project areas but, overall, it was a good fair.”
Jacobsen notes that the obstacles had a positive aspect in one area.
“I think it was a great experience because, despite having to think of new ways to get the job done, we found there were many aspects we liked better and want to incorporate into future fairs,” she says.
Those include how static exhibitions, and fashion and fabric exhibitions are judged.
The point, she says, was having a good attitude going in and people happy the fair would proceed. The experience was well worth the planning, coordinating and worry, Jacobsen says.
“I also hope everyone will continue to foster the feeling of gratitude,” she adds. “We have it good in Natrona County, and this was an excellent reminder of how privileged we are to have the amenities and resources we enjoy here.”