The theme for the 2021 Barton County Fair July 7-11, “A New Beginning,” has a double meaning. First, it is a return to a live event following the COVID-19-induced virtual one last year, and second, it pays homage to the 200th anniversary of the Santa Fe Trail.
“Last year was a little bit different,” said Barton County Fair Board Treasurer Kate Wary. “But this year, we are full bore planning an in-person event.”
Wary and board President Charles Atkinson addressed the Great Bend City Council Monday night. They were there to make their annual budget request, but offered a preview of the upcoming fair as well.
There are some changes, chief among them being that there is no carnival.
“Because of COVID, 50% of the carnivals in United States went out of business, and ours was one of them,” Atkinson said. And, since they have to book those two years in advance, there was no way they had time to replace it.
And even the ones Atkinson said expressed an interest were worried that immigration law changes might keep their employees away.
In addition, some new legislation in Kansas has made it more difficult. Now, a carnival has to have a new inspection per event instead for then entire season, so it is not worth it for them to come to Kansas anymore.
So, Atkinson said fair is going to host three evenings of fun games to test participants’ skills. “We’ll have family nights and just have an old-time, old-fashioned carnival. A long time ago, back when our fair started in 1899, they didn’t have carnivals back then either. So, we’re moving forward.
“We hope everyone comes out and has a good time,” he said. “It’ll be different, but after last year, it’s going to be great.”
They are starting to look at booking a carnival for 2022.
They are going to have the concerts (Christian recording artist Riley Clemmons, local band Home Brew and country recording artist Ricochet), mutton busting, kids pedal tractor pull, antique tractor pull, animal exhibits, 4-H and open-class exhibits, arts and crafts, watermelon feed, and other traditional activities. People seemed to enjoy some of the events started because of COVID, and those will return, including the cruise Barton County poker run and sand volleyball tournament.
And they’ve got some new events planned for this year.
“One of my favorite friends who has passed, the late Karen Neuforth, told us ‘you know you guys should really tie this into the 200th anniversary of the Santa Fe Trail,’” Atkinson said. And since the fairgrounds west of Great Bend sit a half mile off of that famous route, it made sense.
“Our theme this year is ‘A new beginning’ because it’s a new beginning for all of us,” he said. “And, we were looking at the folks coming down the Santa Fe Trail and they were looking for a new beginning as well.”
In addition, they’ll bring back some things they’ve done before. There is going to be a family-friendly bicycle event, along with the return of the corn hole tournament that went over really well the year before last.
Lessons from COVID
The changes because of COVID were not all bad. “We learned a lot last year,” Wary said.
There’s some things they did due to COVID that they will continue. For example, last year, they disinfected between every livestock show.
“Well, it worked out so well we’re going to disinfect between every show this time,” Atkinson said. In addition to being more sanitary, it also helped keep the flies down.
As for the virtual event, “we found out that we did get some people coming out on the internet that we weren’t expecting, a lot of the elderly folks who were computer savvy who were town-bound,” he said. So, they are going to keep some of the online components as well.
More information will be listed on the fair’s website, bartoncountyfair.com as details become available. They will also be continuing fun activities/contest on the site.
Exhibitors can also enter their displays on-line through the website or enter them at the fair from 8 a.m. to noon and 6-7 p.m. Wednesday, July 7.