Gogebic County Fair canceled, virtual event possible
June 3, 2020
By TOM LAVENTURE
Ironwood — Citing uncertainties of COVID-19 restrictions and health agency concerns of a summer surge, the Gogebic County Fair Board on Monday canceled its centennial event this August but may pursue a virtual option.
After lengthy discussion during a virtual meeting the board considered two other options — to go ahead with the fair or delay the decision until the July meeting. The board acted 4-2 to cancel the traditional fair scheduled for Aug. 6-9, with the option to pursue a virtual fair in conjunction with Michigan State University Extension.
“That was a good discussion and a tough decision for everyone,” said Jim Lorenson, fair board chair who voted to cancel along with board members Jim Byrns, Holly Ramme and Shelley Suckow. “I think the virtual fair could turn out to be a good thing, we’ll see.”
Members Tom Fiala and Tom Hampston voted against canceling the event and Crystal Suzik was not present.
Prior to the vote to cancel, another proposal to postpone the vote until July was defeated 4-2 with Fiala and Hampston supporting. Fiala said he was wavering but felt July would offer a more clear picture of August and that fair preparations could still keep moving forward.
“I don’t want anyone to be hurt and I kind of want to play it safe,” Fiala said. “But at the same time I don’t want to jeopardize our 100 year anniversary.”
Lorenson said that going ahead with the fair is a potential liability for the county. It would be too difficult with an event of this type to implement and enforce COVID-19 prevention measures, he said.
According to a conference call with the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, the medical staff indicated that COVID-19 cases here may increase as stay safer at home restrictions are lifted with a possible peak in early or mid July, he said. The easing of restrictions are good for some businesses but not for an event of this type.
“If we were to run the fair and there would be an issue with COVID-19, we would be just a few weeks from the start of school,” Lorenson said. “I am not sure if that could have a negative impact on the start of the schools.”
The decision was also an economic one, he said. The economic downturn could impact fair sponsorships.
The Upper Peninsula State Fair in Escanaba, also in August, is still on schedule but with an anticipated $100,000 in cuts to revenues and from limiting vendors, eliminating activities and onsite lodging because of COVID-19, Lorenson said. Additional fair expenditures are from requiring masks, and screening employees and visitors.
The carnival company indicated that fair revenues are down by 50% this season, he said. That is partly based on the numbers of people indicating they would not attend the fair due to COVID-19.
The fair is always struggling to find enough volunteers, Lorenson said. There is a big concern that many of the regular volunteers are in a high risk status for contracting coronavirus.
“I just think that there are a lot of things stacking up this year against us and I am just afraid that we would be putting people at risk,” Lorenson said.
Ashley Dennis, the 4-H program coordinator for MSU’s Gogebic County Extension Office, attended the meeting to invite the fair to participate with a virtual platform they plan to use for the 45th 4-H Market Animal Auction and 4-H market classes.
The software platform is already in use by other fairs and 4-H programs, she said. There is time to review how other fairs have applied it to design a virtual home and hobby class competition for the Gogebic County Fair.
There would be no cost to the county because we are already using it in the county, Dennis said. The fair would assume costs related to its events such as judges or premiums, she said.
The fair’s judging classes would be submitted as photos and videos.
“This is intriguing, Lorenson said. “This is certainly something that is worth considering and looking into further and we would have some time perhaps to do that.”
With the cancelation of the fair the board 6-0 approved a request from the Lake States Mud Racers to rent the fairgrounds to host the annual Mud Run event that would have been held during the fair. The event may be live-streamed if COVID-19 restrictions limit attendance at the event.
“I appreciate their willingness to do something that they may be able to do, but we’re not in a position to do,” Lorenson said.
The board also approved:
—Reducing vendor contracts from $225 to $100 inside the Expo building to encourage rental; keeping nonprofit booths outside the Expo building at $100; negotiate fee with Aurora Club, and reducing mandatory booth operation from noon to at least 6 p.m.
—To schedule a special meeting within a week to determine actions and notifications necessary to formally cancel the fair and to discuss the virtual fair opportunity.