All’s not fair this year

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Virus precautions will limit events, exhibits

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The Ouray County Fair isn’t canceled – but it’s definitely going to look different this year due to COVID-19.

There won’t be any indoor exhibits, no pie-baking contest, no jellies and jams awarded ribbons.

Kids who spent months raising animals will still be allowed to show them and sell them, though the particulars of organizing a livestock sale in the time of coronavirus still need to be determined.

Because of concerns about possible community spread of the virus, organizers are planning a more subdued event to allow 4-H Club members to have their projects judged. Plans for the livestock portion of the fair and the sale itself are up in the air, pending on what happens in the next few months.

“It’s plan for the worst but hope for the best,” said Kendra Jenkins, the fair board’s secretary/treasurer, during a meeting Monday night.

At that meeting, board members decided to cancel the open class portion of the fair – the part where members of the community can submit projects for judging inside the 4-H Center. Concerns about managing crowds, ensuring social distancing and sanitation contributed to the decision.

But they decided to keep the fair intact as much as possible for those competing in the livestock categories, and 4-H members completing other projects will be allowed to have those judged in the Montrose County Fair earlier in the summer. The Ouray County 4-H group is small – with only three leaders and 13 members, according to Brandon Creamer, Colorado State University Extension 4-H program associate.

Fair board members discussed whether they wanted to try other ways to encourage participation in the livestock auction, rather than trying to boost attendance as they usually do. Most years, each 4-H livestock participant is encouraged to invite two potential buyers. Some of the 4-H kids count on the sale to raise money for college or other big expenses.

This year, it’s too soon to tell whether an in-person livestock sale is possible. If a local spike in cases happened before Labor Day weekend, restrictions on social interactions could be reinstated, and a stay-at-home order could return.

The livestock portion of the fair won’t include the popular “round robin” showmanship competition this year, the fair board decided this week. This part of the competition involves the kids handing off their animals and interacting with judges – so someone who has a Grand Champion steer would also have to show other top competitors’ animals, such as a sheep, a hog, a chicken or a rabbit.

The logistics of getting close enough to transfer the animals between competitors and handling the same lead ropes or other possible sources of contamination led the board members to agree to omit that portion of the fair this year.

Jenkins suggested purchasing portable thumb drives for all the 4-H livestock participants for videos of themselves with their animals. Those virtual livestock shows could then be distributed to potential buyers who would have come to an in-person auction, just in case that’s not possible this year.

The board discussed possibly using the grandstands for livestock auction spectators instead of the smaller arena, as it would allow for more distancing and a larger crowd.

Fairgrounds Manager Erin Stadelman said using that part of the event center could allow the auction to accommodate up to 175 people, under the state’s new draft health order released this week.

COVID-19 has dealt another blow to a board that has already endured a rocky year. After efforts to move the fair to an earlier date in the summer failed, and commissioners rejected the fair board’s request to not hold the fair over Labor Day weekend anymore in concert with the rodeo, Susan Long and Gina Pulliam left the board. Other board members’ terms expired, and for a while, President Bruce Norwood was the sole board member. Jack Flowers and Kendra Jenkins were later reappointed.

Monday night’s meeting was the first time the fair board met in 2020, after two new members – Ashlee Briggs and Aimee Collins – joined the board.

At this point, the board is trying to make the fair something for the 4-H kids to participate in, not necessarily something they’ll widely advertise and invite the community to attend.

“Our goal is to just make it work for the kids this year,” Jenkins said.