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The Plumas-Sierra County Fair runs July 28-31 with the theme "Celebrating Fairs Past." File photo

It’s official: the fair is canceled

By Mari Erin Roth

Special to Plumas News

“In one of the saddest days of my fair life; the Plumas Sierra County Fair Board accepted my recommendation to cancel this year’s fair, as well as all scheduled events on the fairgrounds for the rest of 2020,” said Fair Manager John Steffanic on June 10 after the fair board met virtually that morning. “It was my hope to hold off any decisions until the beginning of July, but factors outside of our control began to arise — the realization that the carnival could not come due to financial realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, the cancellation of over half our vendors with more coming in daily, and the stark reality of our own financial future due to uncertainties in regards to the State budget.”

Steffanic created a fully-prepared plan in early May to present to county officials outlining how to deal with  COVID-19 concerns for the 2020 county fair: handwashing stations, social distancing grids, traffic flow through buildings, educational opportunities, etc. “It was my hope that this level of planning and concern would persuade the health leaders in our county to see the fair as an opportunity to inform the public as to how to behave at a mass event during a pandemic,” said Steffanic. “Unfortunately, they could not even take that into consideration as long as the State of California is not in the Stage 4 of opening up.”

The state is currently in the process of moving into Stage 3 and the Plumas County Health Official’s best guess is that the state will not move into Stage 4 until as late as early winter. Stage 4 would allow for gatherings the size of the Plumas County Fair and Livestock Auction. “The bottom line is, they will not approve any mass event in Plumas County until we reach Phase 4,” reported Steffanic to the Fair Board during the June 10th emergency virtual meeting.

Steffanic said he tried to present a plan B, C, and D to the Board of Supervisors. They all included various permutations of exhibits, livestock show and auction, and entertainment. “None of them were allowed under the current Phase 3,” said Steffanic. “This has not happened since World War II and I am so sad that we have to make this decision.”

The fair board members expressed extreme concern for the young people who have been raising their animals for fair presentation. Fair board President Kenny Chance said, “We have to think if there is any way to provide an opportunity for these kids to show and sell their animals.” All the ideas brought forward had to be shot down because any assemblage of people would defy the safety guidelines and thus risk future funding for the fair. “The community has all kinds of resources, we just have to ask for help,” said one board member.

In the end, there were no solutions the fair board could implement. “We are just beating a dead horse,” said Chance. “Let’s look at what we can do versus what we can’t do.” The good news is: the Junior Livestock Committee, under Chairperson Megan Neer, began to research virtual auctions when the pandemic first started. Almost every fair that has canceled — and over half in the state have done so — has used a virtual auction and seem to have done well with them.

Since the auction is handled by the Livestock Committee, versus the Fair Board, communication regarding the progress on a virtual auction will come from that committee in the next couple of days explaining what sort of program has been put together. “The dedication of these volunteers is impressive and they are doing everything in their power to make sure every livestock exhibitor has an opportunity to sell their animal though a positive experience,” said Steffanic. “I hope everyone supports their efforts.”

The Lassen County Fair is still scheduled. Steffanic said, “This course of action, while bold and independent, may cause them consequences regarding their state funding and insurance coverage. It feels good to think about standing up to this pandemic and going ahead with our cherished events, but when you consider the possible fallout, it becomes obvious that the best thing to do is work towards eradicating this virus, and begin planning for 2021.”

Although everyone on the fair board understood the fair manager’s recommendation and knew it was the correct course of action, no one wanted to be the one to make a motion to approve it, no one wanted to actually say there would not be a fair this year. “I appreciated the sentiment and the love this board has for our fair,” said Steffanic.

The future of the Plumas Sierra County Fairgrounds is murky. After 10 years, California Fairs had finally fought to have annual funding put in place in the state budget. With the pandemic, this has vanished. The greater impact though, is not being able to generate revenue at the fairgrounds since no events are allowed. Losing revenue from High Sierra Music Festival, the Plumas Homegrown Americana Festival, American Valley Speedway races, weddings, dinners, camping event … results in an estimated revenue loss of 80 percent for the fairgrounds. “We are hopeful our industry will find different funds on the state or federal level, but when it comes right down to it, it will be up to our county and community to keep the fairgrounds open long enough to be able to start having events again,” said Steffanic. “Thank you for expressing your support whenever you can. I want you to know that Oran (Morrison) and I will continue to find ways to save money, make money, and serve the community any way possible.”

Health officials are doing the job set before them by following state guidelines and doing what their expertise tells them is best for the health of Plumas County residents. “Everyone has wanted some sort of certainty and level of information that has not been available until now,” said Steffanic. Information on the Livestock Committee plan will be posted on the fair website as soon as it becomes available. Participants will have the option of asking for a refund or rolling over their applications to 2021.

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