By John Finefrock
Local residents are working hard to ensure that this year’s county fair is as normal as possible amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
While nothing has been decided for certain, County Commissioner Alvin Schaaf and Fair Coordinator Tonya Steadmon told The SUN this week that, most likely, the normally four-day fair will be whittled down to two, most likely to be held on July 31 and Aug. 1.
“We want it to be as normal as possible,” Steadmon said. “We want it to be there for the community, but kind of have to play it by ear.”
Archuleta County Attorney Todd Weaver was instructed by the county commissioners at a work session Tuesday to apply for a variance from the state to raise the number of patrons legally allowed to attend the fair.
Weaver explained that the state has changed its variance process and that areas deemed a low-risk of spreading the virus can apply for specific “variance capacity upper limits.”
Weaver reported counties with 25 or fewer new cases per 1,000 people in the past two weeks qualify a county for being low-risk of spreading the virus.
“So we meet that,” Weaver said, referring to Archuleta County, which has not had a new confirmed COVID-19 case since April 17, local businessman Jason Cox noted at the work session.
Weaver reported the county is eligible for a variance for up to 175 people gathering in a confined indoor space or up to 250 people outside if adhering to social distancing guidelines.
Steadmon suggested the annual Chuckwagon Dinner will definitely not happen and any dancing activities could be challenging to operate amidst social distancing requirements, though she’s still figuring out how that could work.
Steadmon explained most logistics of the fair are still up in the air.
“It would be really hard for us to say what’s going to happen and it wouldn’t be fair to say what’s actually going to happen,” she said. “Just know we are doing the absolute best we can to have some type of a normal event for the community.”
Schaaf noted at least one rodeo probably will happen at the fair this year— less than the usual three.
He said the dance will most likely happen “in some fashion” and entertainment like Wild Man Phil should occur, though karaoke might get cut.
In a Tuesday phone call, Archuleta County CSU Extension Agent Robin Young explained that she is working to make the 4-H events that occur during the annual fair “as normal as possible.”
Young told the county commissioners on Tuesday that 4-H is waiting to determine whether the events will happen in person or broadcast on the Internet or both.
“We have decided that July 1 is going to be our cutoff date to determine whether 4-H events will happen live or virtual,” she said. “The reason being is because it’s just so difficult to have those families try to plan for both. It’s difficult for the 4-H office to do it, it’s difficult for livestock, it’s difficult for the fair board. So, for July 1, really no matter what happens for the variance or events that happen live we want to make sure that our kids are well on their way with their project.”
Young explained that 4-H staff are still deciding whether marquee events like the junior livestock auction will be held in person or virtually, or some combination of both, noting that if people online and in person were able to bid, it could attract a larger virtual audience that could raise the bid amounts.
For many young exhibitors, the money they make from the livestock auction helps pay for a college education.
Becky Jacobson, local 4-H coordinator, told The SUN Wednesday how the livestock auction benefits the young people who have raised animals.
“The livestock auction — the dollar amounts, the bids — that money goes back to those kids. It doesn’t go to anybody else and so those kids, they keep record books to show their expenses. The full aspect of the project is that you want to try to raise a healthy, happy animal … The money goes back to the kids and they often put it in their savings and pay for college with those savings if they’re fortunate enough to have revenue after expenses,” she said.
Jacobson said that members of the public can also give “add-ons,” which is “an additional amount of money that goes specifically to the child or children.”
“It has nothing to do with the animals,” she said. “It’s just, ‘Hey, you’re doing a good job, I want to give you 50 bucks towards your expenses.”
“4-H is one of the few programs that helps kids that are doin’ the right thing,” said Commissioner Steve Wadley. “These are kids that are trying to go to college or trying to go to vocational school and have worked for a year to pay their way. Their way, not somebody else’s.”
“Our goal, we would really like to see everything get back to normal, have a county fair, be able to have some normalcy for these kids,” Young said. “One of the things that concerned me right from the get-go was that if we had county fair, how does that look for these kids? I’ve lost sleep over this because I can’t imagine having youth come in there and not being able to wrestle with each other, not being able to sit in close proximity to play cards when it’s in the downtime … We just wanna make sure that the kids get the most out of their projects with the least amount of stress.”
Jacobsen reported that, typically, 4-H raises about $5,000 at the Chuckwagon Dinner, but won’t this year as its been canceled.
She suggested that those who wish to donate to the local 4-H can by dropping off a check at the CSU Extension Office on U.S. 84 or going to https://client.pointandpay.net/web/ArchuletaCo4H/.
Jacobsen directed anyone with questions about 4-H, donating or the specifics of the events at the county fair to call 264-5931.
The Archuleta County Fair Board met Wednesday, after this issue of The SUN went to press.