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Washington County fairs will go on

Photo submitted by Jason White Alexis White 12, of Lower Salem, sets up her lamb to brace in her father's barn Friday, preparing for a show.

As Ohio venues continue reopening after the curve of infection slowed for coronavirus, farm families and fair boards alike are prepared to show off the months of work children put in each year with their market projects.

Officials at all three of the fairs in Washington County have confirmed they will hold the events this year.

Last year, general admission to the Washington County Fair was between 14,000 and 15,000 people through the gate over the course of the multi-day event.

“That didn’t include our season pass holders, so possibly closer to 17,000 people,” said Fair Board President Kurt Bohlen.

The fairs allow local children and teenagers to present with one or more animals, and other skills including painting and research, their extra-curricular work outside of a classroom or athletic field.

But when the novel coronavirus infections began rising across the state, many local families already housing livestock and beginning to prepare projects with their children worried.

“We keep waiting to hear from the governor if we’d even be allowed to hold a fair,” said Jeremy Barth, one of the board members for the Barlow Fair, last month.

But after Gov. Mike DeWine announced earlier this month that county and independent fairs would be allowed to move forward, with social distancing guidelines, and the Ohio legislature last week added $4.7 million in aid this year to supply such fairs with capital for sanitation needs, the annual staples of Washington County are still on the schedule, for now.

“We attended the (Washington County) fair board meeting last Thursday night out of concern because the girls were pretty upset when (the state) canceled the Ohio State Fair,” said Jason White, of Lower Salem.

White attended with his daughters Alyssa, 10, and Alexis, 12, who have appeared in all three of the local county fairs showing lambs, ducks and hogs.

“We also show in as many jackpot shows as we can with the lambs. They showed last Saturday in Millersburg,” explained White. “It’s basically like practicing…them getting out in the show ring four or five times is like the ball games before a tournament.”

So, with bated breath, the pair waited with their father to hear the decision of the board Thursday before slipping back into the barn and working another four hours with their lambs.

“I was hopeful and optimistic that even if they didn’t have a full fair, that they’d at least have the junior fair for these kids,” said White. “My heart really went out to the kids showing beef cattle because they put so much time and money into those projects in a year.”

Kurt Bohlen explained Tuesday that the vote was unanimous to move forward with a full county fair over Labor Day weekend and not only to hold all of the showing events and judgments for livestock but also host vendors, rides and entertainment.

“It (may) change in some of the details a few times before we get there but as of right now that will mean more cleaning in the bathrooms and sanitizer units around the grounds,” said Bohlen. “And we’ll have to reduce the capacity of the grandstand, add more signage, but we’ll still have our vendors, concessions and rides.”

Bohlen said the goal of all three fair boards in the county since March has been to maintain a venue for highlighting the work of FFA and 4-H students, a sentiment echoed in May by Barth.

They speculated how virtual showing or limited showing could operate.

“And each of us met with our health departments, we meet with the city, the other two with the county,” said Bohlen. “Then all three fair boards met together to be on the same page.”

Others discussed at farm stands the costs to families with uncertainty of a full livestock sale at the end of each fair.

“But as far as market projects go, there are some species that are down but others are up so the overall enrollment is about the same as last year,” said Bohlen.

White said his daughters are already spending 16 hours each week with obedience, cleaning and grooming, and so the three were overjoyed to hear the shows will go on.

“These girls absolutely adore these projects and we go up to that jackpot show Saturday, they placed high enough to win a little bit of money, one won $9 and the other $19 and they were on top of the world,” said White. “Alexis said it best the other night. We were standing in the barn and she said the most challenging thing of this, yes, sports are challenging but you can improve your own skills every year. But every year we get new lambs with different personalities and you start over every year to learn how to work with those. I’m proud of the girls and their consistent hard work with them.”

White said as a parent he also sees the other skills having fair projects are teaching his girls besides animal obedience and husbandry.

“There’s book work that goes along with these projects that teaches record keeping, feeding, accounting practices, it teaches them a broad range of things aside from working with the animal itself,” he explained. “There are a lot of life skills to be learned.”

The pair also are raising pigs for Waterford through this summer’s heat.

“And in the past, they’ve shown ducks at Barlow,” he explained. “The fact that Washington County kids get the opportunity to show multiple species, that’s one thing that our county has that’s huge for these kids that many others don’t have.”

Janelle Patterson may be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

At a glance:

• County and independent fairs are allowed to open this summer and fall as state restrictions due to coronavirus lessen.

• The Ohio Legislature allocated $4.7 million to aid in the opening of county and independent fairs in a vote last week.

•The allocation affords $50,000 per fair in support of FFA and 4-H showcasing.

•The allocation affords $15,000 fairs that do not plan to conduct operations this year to be used toward next year.

Source: State Rep. Jay Edwards, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

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