The Barton County Fair, set for July 8-12, is slightly over three weeks away but Fair Board President Charles Atinkson said there’s still a lot they don’t know about what to expect. When he spoke to the Great Bend Kiwanis Club last Wednesday, fair officials didn’t know if there will be a carnival at the Expo or not.
That decision is in the hands of the carnival owners, who had not yet contacted the fair board either way.
“It’s their call,” he said, adding his expects to know by the end of next week.
What is known is that there will be fewer people at the Expo this year, but the sponsors are looking at other ways to engage the public.
Everything is up in the air because of the COVID-19 pandemic and constantly changing guidelines.
“We’re one of the first county fairs out of the gate,” Atkinson said.
The Brown County Free Fair is scheduled to start July 5; Clark and Edwards County fairs start July 6; the Cloud County Fair starts July 7; and July 8 venues include Barton, Wyandotte, Osage and Sedgwick counties, as well as the Cherryvale Youth Fair. At least one of those events, the Sedgwick County Fair, has been canceled this year because of the pandemic.
“Being one of the (early fairs), we had some tough decisions to make,” Atkinson said. “We did know we were not going to walk away.”
Atkinson is also president of the Kansas Fairs and Festivals. He said he attended a Zoom meeting with 296 other people, representing 100 of the 105 counties. But there’s no recipe book for how to organize a county fair, he said. Every county is unique.
If a traditional fair wasn’t feasible, the other options were totally online or a hybrid. To create a hybrid, with some in-person events, the organizers had to plan for a totally online event and then work back.
Antique tractor pull
One live event still on the schedule is the antique tractor pull. It should be easy for people to keep a safe distance from one another during that outdoor event, Atkinson said.
“We hope to do a couple of other things to get the community involved,” he added. The fair website may have some contests and pages dedicated to agricultural education.
What you won’t see
The fair office will be open at the Expo but much of the action, including 4-H and open-class exhibits, will be online. There will be no commercial exhibits or displays, no entertainment and no barbecue.
While there won’t be the nightly concerts, there will be opportunities for live online entertainment, he said.
“We’re putting together a concert series that’s going to be put together by the community.” Acts will be live-streamed nightly at 8 p.m. and people will be able to vote for their favorites.
There will be livestock judging with social distancing, Atkinson said. That means grandparents and other people who would normally fill the bleachers may need to watch online, and the judges may break down the animal classes so there are fewer animals in the show ring at one time.
The animals won’t be kept at the Expo overnight. “It’s going to be: come in, show and leave,” he said.
Four-H families are already making their entries online and they are due Monday, June 15. Most of the regular divisions are offered, from arts and crafts to woodworking. Banners and the Round Robin will not be offered this year.
Open Class entries will also be accepted online, although they have not yet been posted on the website (bartoncountyfair.com). People will be able to take a photo of an entry and upload it to be viewed by judges.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have scratch and sniff on the computer screens,” Atkinson said. Nonetheless, people will still be able to enter cakes and other categories of items. The judges have a lot of experience and know what they’re looking for. “We’re going to do the best we can.”
Not a typical fair
“There are lots of cool things we’re looking at every day,” Atkinson said. He acknowledged this won’t be a typical fair and there are still things to work on.
“But we’re looking at this as an opportunity,” he said. “What we do learn will be good information for 2021.”
Atkinson said he wasn’t ready to roll out a full schedule or say when it will be available. The website advises, “Please stay tuned as we plan for this unprecedented year.” Atkinson said the public will be informed as soon as possible.
“We hope the public will appreciate what we're doing."