NEWPORT — The 2021 Lincoln County Fair is currently a go, and organizers plan for a full-scale exposition with contingencies to scale it down as COVID-related restrictions require.
“All indications are the public, the people, the vendors, the entertainers want it,” Todd Williver, program coordinator for Oregon State University’s Lincoln County 4-H Extension and fair manager, told the Lincoln County Fair Board during its March 11 meeting.
“The one unknown in the fair world is what will the Oregon Health Authority and the governor do to limit participation, or what will the COVID standard of the day be, and there’s just no way to know that,” the extension agent said. “We’re looking at it as if it will be wide open and we can just have a fair again, with full recognition that we may have to go to plan B or plan C.”
The fair manager said the biggest impact of limited capacity would be on the rodeo, which relies on ticket sales (admission to the fair itself is free). “If we’re limited to only seating 300 people or 250 people, it may require that we subsidize the rodeo this year,” he said. Such a capacity limit could result in a shortfall of about $7,000 that the board would have to make up from the fair account.
County Counsel Wayne Belmont told the board that if it had to subsidize the rodeo, this would be the year to do it. Because the fairgrounds had been used for emergency response to both COVID-19 and the wildfires, it might qualify for federal reimbursement funds. He said some revenue sources remained uncertain, such as from the video lottery, but the fair’s beginning balance put it in a comfortable position this fiscal year.
Belmont told the board that if vaccine clinics are still ongoing at the fairgrounds when the fair begins, vaccination days can likely be scheduled around the event.
The fair is scheduled for July 2, 3 and 4. If attendance is even a substantial fraction of previous years, which Williver roughly estimates at about 20,000, it will be among the first of the kind of large-scale gatherings previously spoken of by state health authorities as a feature of “phase three.” No longer a part of pandemic lingo, phase three was defined as the time at which a vaccine was widely available and distributed, and events like festivals and concerts could take place.
Provided an anticipated increase in supply is reached and maintained, Lincoln County Public Health expects to vaccinate about 28,000 residents by mid-June, the number of adults in the county it estimates are willing and able to receive a shot. Although fair attendance would not just be from Lincoln County, this vaccine schedule would theoretically be enough to create local herd immunity by July.
Williver told the News-Times he’d learned from the Oregon Fairs Association that the governor planned to ease restrictions on outdoor gatherings, which also bodes well for the July event.
“We’re all about getting back to business as usual,” Williver said. That means 4-H exhibitions, rides and games, all-day music and entertainment, the rodeo, arts and crafts, a variety of vendors, and food and drink.
“If we get 30 days out and things look like we need to modify plans, we will. But I’m not thinking those plans are going to be hugely modified,” Williver said. “I suspect that things like maintaining social distancing, potentially mask wearing, all those things we’re doing now will likely remain in effect. The only real unknown, I think, is how many people will be able to attend at once, and I think we might not know that until almost showtime.”
The OSU Extension has managed the fair by contract with the county for the past eight years, with the exception of 2020, when the event was canceled. In that time, Williver estimates attendance has doubled.
“Our premise going in was that county fairs were meant to celebrate what’s good about the public, about the people, the businesses, the artisan community, the entertainers within a county,” the extension agent said. “Where fairs all started as animal and agriculture-driven 100 years ago, we’ve got a lot more to celebrate today. So in our mind, the county fairs that are successful are the ones that celebrate the diversity of a community and all the good stuff going on.”
Williver said flexibility was being provided this year to maximize participation from 4-H members. “Normally by now, kids would have been raising animals since December or January, but because of COVID, everything was unknown,” he said. Some kids had decided against or put off purchasing animals, and the pre-fair weigh-in wasn’t held.
“At this point, if they want to go out and purchase a steer and sell it at the market auction, even though we’ve missed the deadline for weigh-in, that’s OK. We’re just going to make a lot of opportunities for youth and families — deadline extensions or eliminated deadlines to allow them to compete in the county fair, even though it will be a shortened season.”
Williver said vendor interest has been high this year, at least on par with previous years, and rodeo representatives were eager to get on the schedule.
Applications for vendors and entertainers can be found on the fair website at thelincolncountyfair.com. No deposit is required for vendor reservations this year. Full payment is due June 15.