KEARNEYSVILLE — This year’s Jefferson County Fair has become another casualty among the events canceled due to concerns and complications from the coronavirus outbreak.
The county fair, an annual summer celebration of agriculture that draws as many as 35,000 people, was scheduled to run from Aug. 16-26.
The decision to forgo the fair—the first year the event will not take place since it began in 1953—was based on health safety, logistical and financial concerns, said Todd Wilt, manager of the event.
The Jefferson County Fair draws about 30,000 to 35,000 patrons a year, about 5,000 on average a night. The event, which takes place at the 80-acre county fairgrounds off Old Leetown Pike in Kearneysville, offers a full schedule of varied events from livestock auctions and showcases to craft shows and bake sales to bull riding and pudding eating contests to tractor pulls and live bands.
About 100 or more youth present their 4-H projects every year at the fair as well.
The primary concern involved lingering questions and uncertainties about how to maintain the safety of the fair’s patrons and the 300 volunteer workers who help conduct the event, Wilt said.
“We just don’t think that it’s a safe option right now to bring the whole community together at the level that we typically do,” he said.
Wilt said about half of the fair’s volunteers are older or are in another high-risk category for contracting COVID-19 and potentially suffering from its medical complications.
“We wouldn’t want them to come help us, and they shouldn’t come help us,” he said. “The reality is we wouldn’t want to put them in that position.”
Wilt said he also spent the last two months talking to the different groups and agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office and the county health department, about how to safely hold the fair amid the coronavirus outbreak. Fair officials reviewed coronavirus-safety recommendations the governor’s office issued for fairs and festivals to follow, and they found the guidelines, including social-distancing standards, would be too difficult to sustain with the large number of people who would likely attend, he said.
Last Thursday, the State Fair of West Virginia scheduled for Aug. 13-22 in Greenbrier County, was also called off due to safety concerns and organizational complications created by the virus outbreak.
Several county fairs in West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland surrounding Jefferson County have also been canceled, including those in Berkeley County, in Frederick and Clarke counties in Virginia and in Washington County, Maryland. Decisions on whether several other fairs will move forward as planned are still pending, Wilt pointed out.
Wilt wondered whether this year’s fair would be financially viable if attendance slumped because of the outbreak. In recent years the event has been important to earn a modest profit to allow the fair association to continue to maintain the approximately 30 buildings on the fairgrounds, he said.
“We have typically made a profit and that profit is typically reinvested into the fair,” he said. “Historically, for the last decade, we’ve been able to invest $50,000 annually back into our facilities. That’s important to keep those [buildings] up for the future.”
“The highest priority, though is the safety of our patrons and volunteers,” he added.
The Jefferson County Fair Association’s board of directors, the group of volunteers involved with the yearlong task to organize and plan for the fair, also emphasized in a statement released last Friday that public safety was the main reason this year’s fair was abandoned.
Wilt said the fair’s organizers will continue to meet at least monthly to start planning for next summer’s fair.
“Stay tuned for additional updates,” offered by the Jefferson County Fair Association’s board of directors, the group of volunteers involved with the yearlong task to organize and plan for the fair. “We will be back!”