By Joel Phelps
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, those who entered exhibits in the Clark County Fair this year had a different check-in system. Despite this, fair officials say it hasn’t put a damper on the number of exhibits entered in the fair. In fact, they seemed to prefer the new method.
JoAnn Vann, family and consumer science agent for the extension office, said the modification was to make exhibit drop-off “drive-through style” so that volunteers could avoid exposure to the public, and so the public could avoid exposure to those working in the fair buildings.
This year’s fair will be a much-welcomed event, as the pandemic canceled fairs across the nation, including the local one.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Vann said. “But we’ve seen a lot more exhibits come in than we really anticipated this year.” She said that exhibitors simply filled out a form before heading to the fairgrounds, then dropped off their entries with volunteers waiting at the front door. “They were done in less than 10 minutes,” Vann said, noting that the traditional check-in method usually takes upward to 30 minutes once exhibitors have made their way around the buildings.
The response most have given has been to include the drive-through check-in every year. Whether that happens will be up to the Clark County Fair Board to decide in a post-fair de-briefing in which the volunteers voice what went well with the fair and what could be changed to improve for the next year’s event.
The downside to the drive-through method is the social connection that makes the fair unique. “A lot of people come to fair because they want to see their neighbor, they want to see all the arts and crafts, so they do miss coming to the building to visit,” Vann said.
Amy Simpson, county extension agent staff chair, echoed Vann’s comments. “A lot of people missed the fair last year,” Simpson said. “I’ve heard people say there are certain people you only see at the fair, and so they missed seeing and socializing and visiting with those people last year. I think everybody’s ready to get out and enjoy the fair this year.”
Like Vann, Simpson said she has been “pleasantly surprised” at the number of exhibits entered this year. “We were worried we would have a low amount of entries,” she admitted, “but it’s starting to fill up with arts and crafts.” The number of entries this year were “a little less” compared to those in the 2019 fair, but Simpson said she is “still really impressed with what we have this year.”
The rabbit show is scheduled for Tuesday evening, with the goat and hog shows Wednesday and the livestock show on Friday. The livestock sale and 4-H sale will be held Saturday morning. Simpson urged support toward the youth selling livestock at the fair. “It’s really important to help support them,” she said. “Livestock projects help teach youth responsibility and economics.”
Simpson also thanked the Master Gardener and Extension Homemakers Council volunteers who are helping with check-in.
The fair officially opens to the public at 5 p.m. Wednesday following the fair parade in downtown Arkadelphia. While face coverings are not mandatory, social distancing is encouraged.
Vann, who also serves as advisor to the EHC, said unfortunately the kitchen will not be open this year because the majority of those volunteers are in the high-risk category of COVID-19, as well as additional requirements in food service due to the pandemic.
However, the Fair Deal concession stand, located in the Commercial Building, will be open and selling food and drinks.
Vann said a volunteer shortage is responsible for shortening the fair’s typical hours of 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. “Since most people come out in the evening when the livestock show is going on, and so we can focus on the volunteers who are going to be in the building,” Vann said the main fair buildings will be open from 5-9 p.m. Another reason is to ensure the safety of exhibits. “A lot of these arts and crafts are valuable,” Vann said. “We keep volunteers in the building to make sure things aren’t damaged or stolen, so since we weren’t able to fill a full day schedule with those volunteers we limited the hours to protect the entries that are here.”
The carnival will remain open until 11 p.m. nightly.