Sarah Ebeling | Managing Editor
The Turner County Fair has been a part of the county’s history for decades. What started as a way to show the success and agricultural achievements of the newly settled county in 1880 has grown into one of the biggest free-gate fairs in the state.
But this year, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fair board has some decisions to make and the group of about 25 isn’t taking the decision lightly.
At their most recent meeting, held Monday, June 29, the group discussed many of their concerns with moving forward with this year’s four-day event.
Fair manager Lavonne Meyer explained that she has been in contact with the D.C. Lynch carnival manager and even they do not know what to expect. All June dates for them have been cancelled. Meyer noted the owner of D.C. Lynch will make his decision in mid July as to whether he will open at all this year or not.
Another concern Meyer said is about whether or not they will get volunteers.
“And the safety of the senior citizens who do volunteer,” she said.
The 4-H program does not know yet if they will be allowed to participate as that decision has yet to come from SDSU (South Dakota State University).
Another concern is the youth programs that volunteer their time for fundraisers and what they might be allowed to do.
Vendor safety is another concern. Many vendors rely heavily on the money they earn at the fair, but they are also concerned about putting themselves at risk. Because of the concern, some vendors have already withdrawn their applications due to the fair’s history of large crowds.
Another concern is that of the grandstand events. The four nightly performances are important for all of the communities that sponsor them, but if the events are required to social distance, they won’t make any money.
Meyer said on the other hand, everyone is ready to be out and going places. She noted some worry about breaking the tradition of the fair, with this year being the 140th event.
“We were looking to celebrate our 140th somehow special, but this isn’t what we had in mind,” Meyer said.
She said that right now, the board is very divided on what to do.
“The decision, either way, will not be taken lightly,” Meyer said about the group that is trying to decide what is the right answer during the pandemic.
“A lot too,” said Meyer, “is where COVID goes in the next two months.”
Currently, upkeep and mowing is continuing like usual and Meyer has already reached out to food booths and grandstand organizers who all say if they are given the green light, they will be ready for the fair this year.
If the Four Best Days of Summer are a go in August, Meyer said there will be many changes implemented to keep the public safe. She noted there are so many things to take into consideration from food lines, to trolley rides, vendor displays and much more. The fair is already looking for suppliers for extra items such as soap, gloves, hand sanitizer and more that will need to be on hand. They have also already cancelled the Sunday evening meal.
Meyer noted too that if there is even an Old McDonalds’s Farm this year, the viewing of animals would be much different than it has been in past years.
Through all the uncertainty and questions of what the best decision is, Meyer said she is most afraid of an outbreak due to a result of holding the fair.
“Just before school starts and kids have to be homeschooled for an extended period, because so many were exposed to the virus,” she said shaking her head.
With approximately 20,000 people daily and upwards of 80,000 people throughout the event heading to Parker for the fair every August, Meyer said people not just from area communities travel to Parker and they need to be sure everyone is safe.
The board will meet again on Monday, June 29 to discuss other ideas and angles about this year’s fair, but will make their final decision on whether the fair will go on or not on Wednesday, July 16.