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Clay County Fair canceled

-Messenger file photo
The Clay County Fair has been canceled for this year. This is the fifth time the fair has been canceled in its 103-year history.

SPENCER — No fair, the Clay County Fair Association said Thursday morning.

This year’s Clay County Fair, one of the last major holdouts after other summer and fall events in Iowa have canceled in a chain reaction, was also canceled amidst concerns about the coronavirus that has kept a vice grip on Iowa as the state surpassed 30,000 COVID-19 cases this week.

The “World’s Greatest County Fair,” as it’s billed each September, will not be held again until 2021 — the fifth cancelation in the event’s 103-year history and the first one that was not related to World War II.

The board planning the annual event held off making the decision as long as it could, exhausting exploration of anything that could let them stop short of axing the tradition this year, but efforts were futile.

“No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t find a way to give you the entire ‘World’s Greatest County Fair’ experience that you have come to love, expect and deserve,” said CEO and Manager Jeremy Parsons, after exploring options to protect the health and safety of fairgoers, staff, volunteers, exhibitors, youth participants, sponsors and entertainers at the nine-day event.

The fair attracts more than 300,000 guests annually.

But despite what planners have called a “postponement” of this year’s event, 4-H and FFA livestock competitions will be held this fall. Details will soon be available from the Iowa State University Extension in Clay County.

“The decision to postpone the fair came with emotion and some disbelief that it was really happening,” said Fair Association board Chairman Charlie Elser. “But with lots of input from our partners and work by our staff, the decision was the right one. It’s time to move forward and think about 2021.”

After exploring all options with public health authorities, Parsons said the answer to whether they could have a safe fair was simply no.

“The answer is clear. We simply cannot,” he said.

Minimum standards for safety would have followed current public health recommendations of social distancing and increased sanitation, but implementing the right measures would have eliminated some of the fair’s greatest traditions — such as the draft horse show or the 4-H beef show — or made them unrecognizable, Parsons said. The board did not want to opt for 50% capacity in entertainment tents or have partially empty exhibit buildings, fuss with the nightmare of refunding or moving purchased Grandstand tickets, or force families to wait in socially-distanced lines to enjoy Grandpa’s Barn or the Depot.

“While we cannot give you the fair this year, we are working hard to find safe ways that you can still create blue ribbon memories,” he said, with local 4-H, FFA and non-profit opportunities at the forefront. Details will be released in coming weeks on the efforts.

In a normal year, good volunteer help that the fair depends on is difficult to find. This year, Parsons said it would have been virtually impossible to find.

He said the “educated decision” made by organizers took into account current metrics and the potential for a disastrous COVID-19 outbreak mid-fair.

“Preparing for the fair required financial commitment for many, including us, and we can’t wind up anything that can’t be unwound,” Parsons said.

Now, they will prepare to be ready for next year’s fair, when they believe “Clay County, northwest Iowa and the entire region will need our fair more than ever.”

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