By Adam Strunk
Unless there are limits on crowd gatherings, the Harvey County Free Fair will take place next month.
Gary Lanier, Fair Board Association president, said the board remains committed to its mission to put on a fair to help improve the quality of life in Harvey County.
“We decided we would have the fair until we’re told that we can’t,” he said, adding that attendance is a personal choice for people.
“If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t come,” he said. “If you don’t feel well, don’t come.”
The state fair was recently canceled in the face of an increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Kansas. Sedgwick County canceled its fair. Halstead organizers canceled all but the fireworks for Old Settlers Days. Newton’s Sand Creek Summer Daze has been canceled.
“The pressure becomes harder as more events are canceled,” Lanier said. “The pressure becomes harder on both sides.”
Lanier said they are encouraging people to stay six feet apart and to wear masks at the fair if they cannot distance. There will be sanitizing stations set up, and the board has regular cleaning plans for the event. He said that many on the fair board as well as outside people who have participated in the past want the event to go forward.
“I know there’s a lot of people canceling, but we think there’s a mental health aspect in this whole deal,” he said, adding that some people need a something to look forward to.
At the end, he said the decision came down to the fair board trusting people to make their own decisions.
“We believe in people to be able to monitor themselves,” he said.
The fair will start with a parade Thursday night and feature mud volleyball, a demolition derby, a market in the park, as well as a carnival. As of July 13, the Newton Saddle Club still had plans to host a rodeo.
Lanier said there has been some cancellations at the county fair. Tug of war organizers pulled out, as have the people who put on the pedal tractor pull.
Notably missing will be any livestock or open exhibits, as Harvey County 4-H announced it would be holding its events virtually this year.
“This was not an easy decision, and it is one we do not take lightly,” the release from the extension office stated. “We are making the decision for the safety of our volunteers, the 4-H families, the youth that we work with.”
Those who would normally show their livestock or other projects at the fair will now work through the extension office to submit videos of them showing and discussing their entries.
The deadline to submit those entries will be July 24, and there will be a Facebook Live event to honor overall winners on Aug. 12.
The extension office’s decision comes as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Harvey County as well as the state.
The county saw 65 new cases in a three-week period. Prior, the county had seen 16 cases.
The increases are mirrored in other counties, such as Sedgwick County, and statewide.
“We were very disappointed extension decided to pull out of the fair,” Lanier said. “We tried everything to cater to them.”
Lanier said fair plans are still subject to change. Should the county move a step backwards in its recovery plan and limit crowds to 45 people, he said that the fair would not be able to happen.
He said that making a decision one way or another has been difficult for the board consisting of volunteers.
He said that, financially, it might not be the most lucrative year. Many standbys will not be present.
“This year is not about the money; we’re just working to break even,” he said.
Lanier said organizers remain determined to make the fair happen. He asked anyone going to be courteous and take the necessary safety measures.
“Our biggest suggestion is to take your neighbor into account,” he said.