Monday, September 21, 2020
Sept. 21, 2020

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In Our View: Cancellation of the fair is unfair, but necessary

The Columbian

Sometimes it’s no fun being a grown-up.

Just ask members of the Clark County Fair Board, who recently made the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 edition of the fair.

In a word, BOOOOO! But with novel coronavirus restrictions still in place for an undetermined amount of time, there was no other responsible choice.

Still, it is a hard loss. The fair regularly attracts something close to 250,000 people over its 10-day run, and lives up to its slogan as “Summer’s Best Party.” But you can’t throw a party without guests.

“Keeping people apart to the greatest degree you can is effective in limiting the transmission of this disease. Fairs are just the opposite of that,” said fair manager John Morrison, who had to deliver the bad news last week. “Everything we do is the opposite of what Public Health is calling for right now.”

Morrison is exactly right. Sitting in the grandstand for a show, walking the midway, sitting at the closely spaced communal tables in the concessions building while eating an Irish Sundae — that’s the essence of the fair.

Of course, Aug. 7 — which would have been the opening day — is a long way off. By then, it’s possible the stay-at-home order may be nothing more than a bad memory.

But it takes months to set up the fair. Vendors have to have contracts in place, the carnival needs to run on its schedule, hundreds of volunteers and employees have to be recruited and trained, exhibitors have to acquire and work with their entries. It’s just not an activity that can be thrown together with two weeks’ notice.

But before we can move on, let’s mourn a few of the losses:

• No Junior Livestock Auction. Every year, many 4-H and FFA members raise farm animals for sale at the fair. Last year, 144 youths participated. The proceeds from the sale can help pay for college, buy a kid a car or set up a first savings account.

• Local groups lose out on fundraising opportunities. In addition to the dozens of entrepreneurs that set up shop on the grounds, the fair is a major fundraiser for organizations like the Ridgefield Lions or the Community of Christ. (We already miss their Lion Burger Baskets and warmed strawberry rhubarb pie a la mode.)

• Local teens miss out on an opportunity for a first job. Every year the Clark County Fair hires dozens of teenagers to keep the grounds tidy. For many, it is a valuable first job, providing them with skills — like talking to a supervisor and following directions — that they will take with them for their entire work lives.

• Members of 4-H clubs and other groups miss out on their chances at public speaking and public demonstrations. Want to give a kid a chance at “adulting?” Have them cook and serve a complete meal at the fair to a judge and a guest, both of whom are strangers, while the public is invited to watch. And yes, table manners are part of the judging criteria.

Of course, we will get through this year. The fair was also canceled in 1942, another time when citizens desperately needed the recreation the fair affords. That year it wasn’t a fear of disease, but a fear of a Japanese attack, that forced cancellations of public events all up and down the West Coast. As the threat subsided, the fair returned, even with wartime restrictions and rationing.

Let’s hope COVID-19’s tail isn’t quite so long. Rather than mourn what’s lost, we need to continue to look forward to the 152nd Clark County Fair, now opening Aug. 6, 2021.