The Franklin County Fair will look decidedly different this year. The board announced Tuesday that it will cancel all non-4-H and FFA activities at the fair, which is scheduled for July 15-19. The decision, like those made by other fair boards in recent weeks, comes amid the presence of COVID-19 in Iowa.
The Franklin County Fair routinely pulls visitors from beyond its immediate vicinity, most notably with big-name acts. This year’s grandstand entertainment lineup was to include Grand Funk Railroad, Jo Dee Messina, Mark Wills and The Leroy Van Dyke Country Gold Tour. Races and a rodeo were also planned.
Barb Muilenburg, the fair’s marketing and fundraising manager, said it was a difficult decision, but the fair board decided the risks associated with hosting the fair as usual were too great.
“It’s been very emotional for our fair board because we put so much thought into entertainment, and plan all year long. We want to make it the best possible experience for our community,” Muilenburg said Tuesday. “It’s just too much risk to have somebody become ill because of coming to the fair.
“A number of our fairgoers and volunteers are in the older population and so we just cannot do anything that would impact their health,” she added.
The fair’s board of directors has been assessing the coronavirus situation continually. It has met frequently with the Association of Iowa Fairs, and with Franklin County law enforcement and public health officials.
“We’re trying to make the best decision for fairgoers, the community and the fair,” Muilenburg said.
The fair will still feature 4-H and FFA activities and livestock shows, although Muilenburg said details about how those shows will be run are still being ironed out.
“These kids have been preparing their animals and their projects,” she said. “They’ve had school taken away from them. This will hopefully be a bright spot in their summer.”
The press release announcing the fair board's decision addressed what will surely be a question posed by the public.
“For some of you, this may seem premature, but our many fair partners and vendors need adequate time to ensure that they are prepared to provide the needed services and supplies that make the fair operate smoothly,” the press release reads.
People who have purchased a Franklin County Fair POP Pass or tickets may request a full refund (minus service fees). The fair is also inviting a donation of those refunds to the fair to help pay for fixed costs.
The Franklin County board is not the first fair to make this decision. Also on Tuesday the North Iowa Fair announced its plans to cancel the carnival, open class exhibits, vendors and shows that were planned for July 16-19 in Mason City. The press release announcing the decision states that the fair board will allow 4-H exhibits to be presented virtually, “or in accordance with whatever guidelines may be set by the Cerro Gordo County Extension Office, should that become a possibility.”
Two weeks ago the Butler County Fair Board announced the cancellation of all non-youth related activities, and the Greater Jefferson County Fair, and Linn, Johnson, Howard, Benton and Wapello county fairs have also been canceled, either partially or completely.
Other summer festivals – Hubbard Days, Alden Days and Ackley Sauerkraut Days – have also been canceled. New Providence’s Heritage Festival and Iowa Falls’ Riverbend Rally will still happen, but they’ll be different, with most activities canceled or altered to comply with public health guidelines.
The Minnesota State Fair was canceled last week, but a decision about the fate of this year’s Iowa State Fair has not been announced.
The Hardin County Fair, which is scheduled for July 8-12, is still on, but the situation is being assessed.
"As of right now, we are working with the Extension office and we have decided to have a 4-H and FFA show. We are working out the details," said Dale Jass, president of the Hardin County Fair Board. "As far as the rest of the fair goes - the grandstand events, the grounds and attractions - anything related to the fair is to-be-determined.
"We are working on a meeting but I'm not going to disclose anything," Jass added. "But we are in constant contact with emergency management. We are working towards getting the best outcome we can for the fair. No one's ever been in these waters before. We are trying to give the best outcome for the kids that we can. That's where the focus should be, is the kids and their animals and projects."