This year it’s possible to attend the 2020 Barton County Fair without ever leaving home. To offer a safe environment for attendees and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the fun – from food judging to entertainment – is online at the website bartoncountyfair.com.
Live animal judging was one of the few activities taking place at the Expo Complex, 2.5 miles west of Great Bend. Fair Board member Inga Atkinson said that was done bringing in one species at a time, with small groups only allowed at the events. The 4-H livestock was set to wrap up Friday evening with the Beef Show in the Aaron’s Repair Arena.
There are ways for the public to participate without going online. At 6:30 p.m. Friday, the Cruise Barton County Poker Run will get underway at the Expo Complex. This poker run is open to all types of vehicles, Atkinson said. Participants will safely drive through the communities of Great Bend, Hoisington, Claflin and Ellinwood, drawing a playing card at each stop and moving on. Then they’ll go back to the Expo where the winners will be announced, based on the best poker hand.
“We got all of the chambers (of commerce) involved,” Atkin said, adding people won’t even have to leave their cars to draw their cards.
Safety has been the top concern for this year's fair, which is why many events that are usually held at the Expo were virtual. However, one more in-person community event is still planned. The Antique Tractor Pull starts at 1:30 p.m. Saturday north of Expo III. Registration opens at noon. There is plenty of room for social distancing at this outdoor event.
Online, there are contests and activities, including coloring contests, puzzles, a virtual car show and more. As 4-H and Open Class entries are judged, the results are posted.
Wayne DeWerff from rural Ellinwood judged the Open Class Horticulture and Floriculture divisions, viewing entries that were uploaded to the website.
“Nothing’s ever going to replace the face-to-face or the actual contact, but I was very pleased,” DeWerff said. He was skeptical about judging online but said it was a good experience, if somewhat surreal.
“I’m judging the fair but I’m not there. This was completely different,” he said. He found the computer software easy to navigate and said he appreciates the people who took the time to enter.
“It’s a whole new thought process,” he said. He hopes the fair is more traditional in 2021 but said, “I’d do it again.”
Bev Hammersmith was this year’s judge of the Open Class Foods division. The former Barton County resident now lives in Wichita but was part of the Barton County Fair Association for 20 years, serving as the Open Class Foods Superintendent for many years.
“The people that entered did a great job of displaying the items and following the rules,” she said. “Basically, I just had to judge on the looks – it’s really hard to judge food without tasting it!” With her trained eye, Hammersmith was able to point out where an item was successful or where the entry could have improved, but often her remarks end with “Wish I could taste it.” The entries and results are on the website.
“The Barton County Fair is very near and dear to my heart,” Hammersmith said. She always enjoys being involved when she can and agreed that virtual judging was not the norm, but said, “it was fun to do.”
Virtual concerts start are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. People can watch them "live" online and vote.