Though it hurt them to do so, Wadena County Fair Board members agreed to cancel the 2020 fair scheduled for June 18-21 during their regular meeting Monday, May 18. The group announced the decision Tuesday morning following discussion that lasted over two hours.
"It is with deep heartbreak that we share this decision with you," a written statement from the board said. "The Wadena County Fair Board met last night and did vote to cancel the 2020 Wadena County Fair because of Covid-19. Nine out of 11 board members were present and with some discussion against, it was a unanimous decision.
"The Wadena County Fair is centered around people: Educating people, Connecting People and Entertaining People," the board's statement continues. "This year is no different, however this year we need to be focused on keeping people safe. Believe us, we would love nothing more than to eat cheese curds, watch livestock shows, ride the ferris wheel and take in a grandstand event, but the protocols put in place to protect people from Covid-19 are simply unrealistic for our volunteer organization to achieve, and the liability involved is too great for our volunteer organization to risk."
Speaking during the fair board meeting was board secretary Kylene Lehmann, who said she recently sat in on a discussion about how some are planning to operate with large gatherings. While it seemed possible, it would take a major amount of manpower to provide clean surfaces, maintain proper distance guidelines and continue to have an enjoyable fair experience. Many of the fair volunteers are seniors and are at higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
"We are working with the Wadena County 4-H program to ensure the youth in the program will still have the opportunity to enter exhibits for evaluation as part of their 4-H projects, including livestock, in some way, shape or form," the statement said. All 4-H face-to-face interactions have been postponed until at least June 30. "We will be following up with sponsors, vendors and other exhibitors of the Wadena County Fair this week. Our board has been sharing many ideas of other events that could take place later in the season, including our grandstand events; that is all dependent upon regulations loosening up in the near future. As far as our upcoming Enduro Racing Season, we are watching closely and are open to rescheduling race dates if needed.
Those with questions about the decision are asked to contact fair board members.
Also part of the discussion Monday night was over a Wadena County Horse Fun Show planned for next week at the fairgrounds arena. The event was being organized by Ashley Koning, who said she was unaware she needed to ask Wadena County Commissioners for permission to operate such an event as the fair and it's various events have not had to do so in the past. A board resolution approved two weeks ago states that any event being planned on county owned property during a county board declared state of emergency shall require prior county board approval to hold the event.
Wadena County Commissioners voted Tuesday in favor of denying the event take place with all in favor except Commissioner Jon Kangas. Kangas, as he has in previous board meetings, compared regular businesses and events to Walmart traffic and could not rationalize how it made sense to allow no regulation of those coming and going from Walmart, yet any other gathering of people, no matter the size of the site, was coming under scrutiny from the county and state.
Aside from Kangas, commissioners said the county had to follow the executive orders set by Gov. Tim Walz. Those orders don't make it clear just how long it will be before large groups could once again gather. Board chair Chuck Horsager said seeing these events canceled was difficult as he enjoys attending them all.
Fair board president Darin Lehmann found the decision to cancel the horse show in the small town of Wadena to be very saddening.
"I hate to get so upset, but when is the end in sight?" Lehmann asked. "It's saddening. We're not talking about hundreds of people. People have been planning this for months."
Much like Kangas, he questioned why the small town of Wadena is being compared with the metropolitan areas.
"We're talking totally different calibers of people," Lehmann said.
Commissioners Sheldon Monson and Horsager were hopeful the horse show could be rescheduled to a later date.
Fair board members mentioned the rodeo that was planned for the fair could be rescheduled for the fall. The fair board did not have a contract with other events planned except for the carnival. It was unclear Monday night whether they would be able to escape the contract or not.
President Lehmann, in putting the fair vote to question, told fair board members that not having the fair will give the group of volunteers time to make needed improvements on the property. Much discussion was had about all the work that could and should be done to make next year's event even better.