Summer festivals

Due to the restrictions placed on public gatherings by the Directed Health Measure issued from the Nebraska state government, several annual events have been canceled or re-structured in such a way as to be barely functional.

The Milligan June Jubilee scheduled for June 11-13 in Milligan, Nebraska, was canceled outright. So was Annevar, the festival originally scheduled to be held in Ravenna, Nebraska, June 18-21. Two other festivals (both scheduled for June 17) — North Platte Nebraskaland Days in North Platte and the Sandhills Ranch Expo in Bassett were likewise lost.

The event organizers had held out hope until the last minute. As late as May, Ravenna Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Gina McPherson said she had hoped an updated health measure from the state would allow the annual festival to go on as planned. Unfortunately, it was not be so.

The Nebraska Department of Agriculture released guidance for restricted fair and livestock events in June. These included restrictions for gatherings and activities that are commonly a part of festivals and fairs. After reviewing these new restrictions, the Madison County Fair that was scheduled for July 7-12 — making it the first county fair in the state in 2020 — canceled.

Another victim of concerns stemming from COVID-19 was the 40th annual Wayne Chicken Show. Originally scheduled for July 10, it has been rescheduled for Saturday, Sept. 12. According to the event’s website, the Chicken Show will be condensed into a one-day “big Bird-day Bash.”

The Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska adapted to the situation using technology. Organizers are still planning to hold the Nebraska Pork Expo July 8 at the Holthus Convention Center in York, but they will be hosting the event online instead in a live venue. The virtual expo will run 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Livestock program coordinator Rylee Stoltz said the webinar is free.

After reviewing the new guidelines, Clay County and Platte County have decided to hold fairs — albeit in a heavily modified fashion. Primarily, the events will center on the livestock shows. There will be no carnivals or grandstand events.

“The livestock shows will be ‘show and go’ style with no outside spectators allowed,” said Deanna Peshek of the Clay County Extension staff. “Livestock will be brought in — basically shown from trainers, and returned home the same day.”

Static exhibits will be dropped off at designated areas to be judged. Afterwards, the owners will be contacted for pickup, she said.

“Kind of small and uneventful this year,” Peshek said. “We are happy for what we will be able to provide for the youth.”

The same process will be used at Platte County, said Extension educator Jill Goedeken. Exhibitors are requested to show and stall off of their own trailers. In addition, the fairgrounds must be cleared two hours after each show.

Goedeken said that active screening will take place at the property entrance for shows. Social distancing will be practiced and masks are strongly encouraged for spectators and required to be worn by exhibitors.

The Douglas County Fair will not be open to the public. According to the Friends of Extension, the group will host outdoor livestock shows only. These will feature youth open class cattle, sheep, meat goats and swine on July 11-12 at the Chance Ridge Event Center in Elkhorn, Nebraska.

The Fillmore County Agricultural Society announced that its entertainment activities scheduled for the July 11-13 will be postponed until 2021. This seems to be the pattern most early to mid-July fairs are following.

“We are currently working through all the specifics,” said Tammy Bargen, Nuckolls Ag Society treasurer. “The hope is some of our current contracts for entertainment will transfer to next year.”

Due to the number of restrictions on maximum number of people allowed and social distancing rules, attendance was expected to be low.

“Nuckolls County Fair decision-makers made the best call they could,” Bargen said.

They made 4-H and FFA events for youth a priority. Livestock shows and the static exhibits will still be judged, however, neither of those are open to the public and there are modifications in those areas as well.

“It was a tough decision between the Ag Society and 4-H Council,” Bargen said. “It’s very hard to tell what will actually be in place come July 11-15 (when the fair is scheduled to take place), but we did the best we could knowing what we knew as of June 3.”

Having to make the hard call so early has been difficult for other fair managers, as well. Donnie Steager, chief organizer for the Butler County Fair, said it the best.

“I love the fair,” he said. “But this year, organizing hasn’t been fun.”

As of the first week of June, Burt County is still planning 4-H events July 14-19. The carnival and grandstand events — such as the demolition derby and tractor pull — were canceled. He said the restriction to 25% capacity made it financially unviable, even with sponsors. Those contracts were able to be rolled over to next year.

“It wasn’t an easy decision. We are still going to take a huge economic loss,” Steager said. “The good news is the 4-H events still get to go.”

Travis Theobald echoed that sentiment. Theobald is responsible for the organization of the Furnas County Fair scheduled for July 14-18. He also said that it was a tough decision, but was grateful the 4-H events were getting to take place.

He said the biggest economic hit will be seen from the loss of the demolition derby. That is the fair’s fundraiser event. The money goes to the local Lion’s Club, which uses it to provide health services, pay for its eye glass program and offer individual assistance in the area.

There will be new state-level health guidelines released in July. Most fair organizers have adopted a “wait-and-see” stance, hoping new measures will be less restrictive.

Jon Burleson can be reached at jon.burleson@lee.net.

Jon Burleson is the Midwest Messenger reporter, based out of eastern Nebraska. Reach him at jon.burleson@lee.net.