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Larimer County Fair 2020 proves determination and resilience abound in 4-H community

By: Katie Harris | The Surveyor | August 13, 2020 | Local News
Photo by Gabriel Dupon Photography – Thanks to the implementation of safety measures including dividing participants into small groups, limiting the number of animals per participant and social distancing, 4-H members were able to show their livestock at Larimer County Fair this year despite early fears that the event might be canceled.

“It wasn’t a normal year”—What may be the understatement of a lifetime is perhaps the simplest way to describe the 2020 Larimer County Fair, as it has been for so many events in recent months. Yet, unlike so many other events which were canceled due to COVID, the fair went on in spite of it, proving like never before that determination and resilience reign supreme in the 4-H community.

“There was a lot of turning on a dime, trying to make decisions a week before things were happening, and not knowing what some things would look like until the last minute,” said Kathy Mason, communications specialist for Larimer County’s CSU Extension. “It wasn’t easy but we had volunteers and committees and The Ranch staff and 4-H kids who all came together and said, ‘Okay, how are we going to make this happen?’”

With so many other things canceled this year, particularly for kids, Larimer County 4-H Agent Brittani Kirkland said everyone involved was determined to make fair happen, even if it wouldn’t look the same as in the past.

One of the biggest changes to fair included limiting the number of people in attendance to comply with state regulations. This meant capping the number of animals each participant could show, grouping 4-Hers by last name rather than bringing everyone onto the fairgrounds at once and, for many the most difficult change to swallow of all, limiting guests to one adult per participant.

“Fair is usually a family event,” said Kirkland. “Families come out to watch their kids show their animals, walk around the fairgrounds, visit the carnival and make a day of it.”

While that wasn’t possible this year, thanks to the efforts of the 4-H Junior Leadership Club, whose members run the Dairy Bar concession stand in typical years, every livestock event that took place was live streamed through the Larimer County Extension Facebook Page. Family members who couldn’t attend in person along with members of the public who wanted to be part of this year’s fair could watch the proceedings live from the comfort of their homes.

“Our Junior Leadership Club reached out and asked how they could help this year and when we asked them to livestream they figured out how to make it happen,” said Mason. “It was 4-H youth stepping up to help other 4-H youth, and it was just a wonderful thing to see come out of this.”

According to Mason, nearly every livestock event that took place received over 500 views on Facebook. In addition, the extension office provided photos on its Facebook page of static projects, such as cake decorating and woodworking, which were judged at the Embassy Suites in Loveland in late July.

“We tried to include people who couldn’t be there,” said Mason. “We wanted as many people to be able to still enjoy fair this year as possible, so we were very active on our Facebook page.”

In addition, The Ranch created a Larimer County Virtual Fair event on their Facebook page this year where they posted contests, polls and trivia, along with links to popular entertainment from past years’ fairs including Twiggy the Water Skiing Squirrel and the Delta Sonics Blues Band.

While fair organizers went to great lengths to make this year’s fair accessible to spectators, their main focus was on providing a memorable, if different, experience for all the 4-H kids involved. According to Mason, it was worth the effort.

“We certainly had a decline in numbers this year, due to families with health concerns or concerns about the health-related restrictions we had to put in place, but what we found was that for everyone who did come out, fair was a more relaxing event this year than ever before,” said Kirkland. “There was a lot less activity, things were quieter and calmer, and everyone just seemed super excited to be able to come out at all.”

In fact, some good may have even come out of mixing things up this year. Thanks to livestreaming, family members from out of state were able to watch 4-Hers show their animals for the first time, the extension office’s text notification system was newly discovered to be incredibly useful for last minute changes compared to sending constant emails, and a staff member from The Ranch created a pedal-operated water tank to cut back on surface contamination, which Kirkland believes will help immensely both with animal biosecurity and general sanitation for years to come.

Perhaps the greatest good of all was the opportunity for people to come together and show what they’re made of.

“The one thing that pops into my mind, especially with the 4-H youth, is the resiliency and willingness to say, ‘All right, what do I need to do,’” said Mason. “These qualities are reflective of what 4-H seeks to instill in kids. They could’ve pouted and stomped their feet but they didn’t. Throughout the organization we saw camaraderie, teamwork and gratitude.”

Kirkland said that attitude of gratitude was overwhelmingly present among fair organizers, 4-H families and even the public.

“Sure, there were people who were disappointed, but the vast majority were thankful we did it,” she said. “It was a big shift for everyone this year, but we made it happen under a tight timeline and we’re so grateful to everyone for their patience and understanding.”

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