WAHOO – The fair will go on!

The Saunders County Agricultural Society decided July 1 to proceed with the Saunders County Fair, but in a modified format because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the Directed Health Measures (DHM) put in place by the state, there will not be a carnival, parade or food venues during the fair. The Wahoo Saddle Club announced last week that the PRCA Rodeo would not take place because of the pandemic. And some of the other activities operated by organizations other than the ag society are still up in the air.

The main focus of the fair will be 4-H and FFA youth activities. Saunders County Extension Educator Cole Meador told the fair board that they had multiple meetings with local health officials to work out a plan for conducting the 4-H and FFA shows and exhibits according to the DHM and guidelines provided by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

Safety was the main concern when the extension staff worked on the fair schedule.

“It will be the safest fair possible, considering the year we’ve had,” Meador said.

Extension Assistant Melisa Konecky said they surveyed the 4-H clubs and found that while many are excited that the fair is still taking place, there are others who may opt not to attend this year.

“There are still a good number of people super nervous about coming out,” she said.

Meador said there is an approximately 50-50 split between those who plan to attend and those who will stay home.

“We’re trying to do our best to accommodate as many people as we can,” he added.

The rules have been relaxed so kids can leave right after the show and bring their animals back for the sale at the end of fair week, Meador said.

All of the shows will take place on their regularly scheduled day, but the times have been adjusted to accommodate for check-in, Meador said. Participants and judges are encouraged to wear masks, but not required. However, staff will wear masks when the six-foot social distancing requirement cannot be achieved. There will be plenty of opportunities for participants to disinfect their hands at sanitizing stations and bathroom facilities. When bleachers will be present, they will be marked off to identify the six-foot distance.

A few youth contests were cancelled because they would not comply with the DHM, including herdsmanship, ice cream rolling and the judging contest. The best dressed critter contest will be held virtually, with exhibitors submitting a photograph via an online judging platform.

The venue will change for other contests, again to either meet the regulations put in place by the pandemic or because of adjusted scheduling. The tractor driving and ATV driving contests will take place in the rodeo arena.

Sanitizing of equipment or vehicles used in contests will take place between the competitors. Livestock scales will also be disinfected between family weigh-ins and bleachers and panels will be sanitized between shows, Meador said.

Konecky said the static events will be located in the 4-H, commercial and open class buildings. The buildings will be open for the public to walk through, but they will be set up so items cannot be touched and so people can social distance, she said. Food exhibits will be judged on uniformity and appearance but there will be no tasting. And there will be no interview judging. There will be no open class competitions.

Activities that are not 4-H or FFA related were also the topic of discussion by the fair board.

The craft fair/vendor show has been cancelled, but the wine/beer tasting will still take place. Motor sport events like the Figure 8 race and demolition derby are still planned. The local tractor and truck pull remains on the schedule, but the fair board voted to eliminate the Mid-America Truck and Tractor Pullers event. The hay hauling competition was still being decided by the organization that runs the event.

One of the most highly anticipated events of the fair is the concert. This year, 1980s super group 38 Special is on the bill, along with Blackhawk, a country-rock group that hit big in the 1990s. Over the weekend, the fair announced that the concert is still on, and encouraged fans to purchase tickets early, as the capacity will be limited by the pandemic regulations.

Fair Board President Kris Kavan said they will write up a plan for operating the motor sports, wine tasting and concert while following the regulations set in place.

Fair Board Treasurer Jordan Kavan said there have been some who are criticizing them for using tax dollars to put on the fair. He reminded everyone that tax dollars are only used for 4-H events. All other events, like the concert, are paid for with money raised by the fair board.

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