Jackson County Fair canceled for 2020; virtual 4-H exhibition planned

A unified decision has been made to cancel the 2020 Jackson County Fair.

On Wednesday, the Jackson County 4-H Council, Purdue Extension Jackson County and Jackson County Fair Association shared that news via a joint statement posted on Facebook.

The fair was scheduled for July 26 through Aug. 1 at the fairgrounds in Brownstown.

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According to Tribune files, the fair’s first year in Brownstown was 1939. Jim Thompson, whose family has been involved in the fair every year since then, said the only time the fair was canceled was one year during World War II.

With the fair having an average attendance of 130,000, Thompson said it would have been difficult to meet all of the requirements set by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I hate it, but it is what it is,” Thompson said.

Tom Martin, president of the Jackson County Fair Association, had a similar comment Tuesday night after announcing the board’s vote following two hours of discussion. In the paper vote, 19 board members voted to cancel the fair and six voted to have the fair.

“It’s a sad, sad day, but it is what it is,” Martin said.

In the joint statement, the entities said while Indiana’s Back on Track plan would allow for events of the fair’s size by fair time during Stage 5, it is not a guarantee.

Fair board members were asked to consult with stakeholder groups that participate in the fair, including various vendors, food stands, the carnival, grandstand event organizers, the insurance company and other community representatives.

The Jackson County 4-H livestock and auction committee, Jackson County 4-H Council and Purdue Extension Jackson County Board all reviewed the governor’s plan and additional guidelines from Purdue University to host in-person extension events throughout the month of July.

“The health of the community, financial/economic impact and logistics of the fair were all considered before a final decision was made,” the statement says.

Earlier in Tuesday’s meeting, Martin said he wanted it to be a community-based decision that was methodical and deliberate, keeping the health and well-being of fairgoers, volunteers and workers at the core.

“We’re making the best decision based on the information that we have available to us at this point in time for something that’s going to happen in the future,” he said.

“I feel like we’re doing it right,” he said. “We’ve gathered our facts. We’ve had all of these committees go out and report back. We’ve heard those. We’re working with the other entities to see what’s best. I want to have a fair as much as anybody in this room.”

4-H exhibition going virtual

The 2020 4-H exhibition, usually conducted at the Jackson County Fair, will be transitioning to a virtual format for all 4-H projects.

All submitted 4-H exhibits will be judged and made public using Fair Entry, the system that has been utilized the past several years for fair entries. Youth will upload photos of their 4-H exhibits and all related files necessary.

Specific details about how to exhibit projects and what information is needed will be mailed and emailed to all 4-H families in the next few weeks.

“We encourage youth to continue working on their 4-H projects, as the heart of 4-H is to ‘Learn by Doing,’” according to the joint statement.

The extension office also will be sending out information for livestock participants to pick up tags. They should wait until the process is communicated to contact the office. If families have 4-H manuals at the extension office, they can call 812-358-6101 to schedule a pickup time. Resources will be placed in a tote outside the extension office door.

Over the next few weeks, 4-H volunteers will make decisions on project exhibition, livestock projects and the traditional 4-H livestock auction.

“We have been communicating with our community as plans have changed significantly the past few months. We will continue to make sure everyone has the information they need moving forward,” the statement says. “We look forward to celebrating our youths’ accomplishments just as we do every summer. This year, however, it will look different. Our 4-H volunteers and 4-H members are resilient. We will get through this difficult time together.”

Tough decision

Officials rest assured the decisions were not easy to make and were not made without a great deal of thought and research.

“The Jackson County Fair takes great pride in being the largest event in Jackson County and has operated at an award-winning level throughout its history,” the statement reads. “However, the current projected guidelines in which the Jackson County Fair and any live 4-H event would have to abide by make it impossible to provide the same fair experience we have been accustomed to providing.”

Changes required by the current guidelines include:

Livestock would only be on the grounds for the day of their show and the barns would not be open to the public

Food stands would be required to monitor and maintain 6 feet of social distancing in food lines as required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines

Buildings would be required to be one-way traffic only with limits to the number of people that can be in each building at one time to comply with proper social distancing

All lines and walkways in the carnival grounds would be required to maintain 6 feet of social distancing at all times

The fair board heard from Dr. Christopher Bunce and Paul Ramsey from the Jackson County Health Department during Tuesday’s meeting.

Bunce said based on what’s known about the coronavirus, it can be transmitted whenever there’s a density of people and there is prolonged exposure to an infected person.

“Primarily, it’s between people’s faces,” he said. “As much as we talk about cleaning surfaces, it’s between face to face, and so that’s why we get the distance and facewear.”

Bunce said while it may not have been impossible to have the fair, a system would have had to be in place where people are relatively separate.

“You can’t just set rules up, have a line of tape on the ground and just think it’s going to run,” he said. “You have to have people walking around and saying, ‘Hey, can you move back a little bit?’ You have to have it. If you don’t have it, then it’s going to be really hard to have any kind of meaningful safety measures that don’t just get run over.”

Right now, Bunce said he has no reason, data or evidence to believe the virus would be gone by the time of the fair.

“The Jackson County Fair is known as a place where people come to gather. This is evident in one of its nicknames, ‘The Lawn Chair Fair,’” the joint statement says. “However, a large gathering at the end of July currently poses a great deal of risk to our visitors and volunteers from all communities that come to the fair and the related churches, schools and places of work of our visitors and volunteers.”

Officials said they hope to see everyone at the 2021 Jackson County Fair, which is set for July 25 through 31.