A family leaves the Clinton Lions Agricultural Fair in 2017. Portland Press Herald file

Organizers of some upcoming central Maine fairs are considering adjustments but plan to move forward with events following the announcement this week that the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity would cancel in-person events amid a statewide surge in COVID-19 cases.

After taking hiatuses last year, officials with Oosoola Days in Norridgewock, the Farmington Fair, Clinton Lions Agricultural Fair and the New Portland Lions Fair all said that they plan to move forward with in-person events.

The Clinton Lions Agricultural Fair is scheduled for Sept. 9-12, at the Clinton Fairgrounds off Route 100.

Buddy Frost, the Clinton fair secretary, said that organizers are concerned about the pandemic and have put out additional hand sanitizing stations at the fairgrounds. They have not announced any plans to require masks, but that may have to happen, Frost said, as pandemic conditions have seemed to worsen exponentially just in the last week.

“We are concerned about the pandemic — no question about it — but we are kind of at the point of no return,” Frost said.

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which runs the Common Ground Country Fair, announced Wednesday evening that it was canceling in-person activities for the event, which has previously attracted about 60,000 people to the three-day fair in late September.

In an interview Friday, Sarah Alexander, the executive director of the association, said that organizers came to the decision after hearing concerns from residents.

“What made the decision for us was listening to our community members,” Alexander said.

Organizers have been monitoring guidelines all year from the Maine Center for Disease Control, Alexander said, and had adjusted the layout of the fair to allow for distancing, eliminated indoor spaces and required masks in some places. But when looking at the rising case counts that have been driven by the more contagious delta variant, there were still concerns.

On Friday, the state recorded 665 new COVID-19 cases, the highest one-day total since January.

The country fair is also entirely run by volunteers, Alexander said, which added another layer to the considerations. They looked at capping attendance, but even then were looking at around 22,000 people each day. Visitors also come from across New England, Alexander said, adding another worry.

So after considering the factors of case counts, and kids trying to go back to school and other outbreaks in the state, organizers decided it just wasn’t feasible.

“I think the numbers of having that many people in areas where, even with safety protocols, would have been up to individuals to maintain that safety, and feeling like the map didn’t quite work out for the case counts and number of people — we are trying to keep everybody safe,” Alexander said.

And they aren’t the only ones reevaluating. Further north in Dover-Foxcroft, the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival announced Thursday that it was canceling. The festival was scheduled for Oct. 2 at the Piscataquis Fairgrounds, but organizers cited rising cases in the county in the press release about the cancellation.

In central Maine, Oosoola Days will be held Sunday and Monday, Sept. 5-6, in Norridgewock. Town Manager Richard LaBelle said that all events will be outdoors, which should help prevent any spread. Like the Clinton fair, organizers of Oosoola Days did not hold an event last year but plan to return this month.

LaBelle said that the main pandemic-related conversations have been related to ride vendors who would normally come to the fair. Those vendors that offer options for younger children, who cannot be vaccinated, had concerns and some of them will not be involved this year.

“We have other options that don’t necessarily require that interaction and allows folks to enjoy the outside and the festival,” LaBelle said.

The fair was not held last year, since the majority of funding for it comes from local businesses, LaBelle said, and they did not want to put any more financial pressure on them — especially if they might have to cancel the event anyways.

According to one Oxford County Fair organizer, as of Friday there had been no decision of whether to cancel the event scheduled for Sept. 15-18.

James Trundy, vice president of the Oxford County Fair, says no decision has been made and they are unsure what the threshold needs to be to make that call at this point. Meanwhile, he said the board is carefully watching the numbers and for any announcements from the state that give guidance.

Maddy Smith of Anson checks out chickens in the livestock section during the three-day 77th annual Agricultural Fair presented by in 2017 the New Portland Lions Club. Morning Sentinel file

Darrell Nix, the co-manager of the New Portland Lions Fair and its Maine Crafts Festival, said that they are hopeful their smaller attendance and spread out location will help mitigate any pandemic concerns.

The local Lions did not hold a fair last year, as the Department of Agriculture did not want to hold any fairs, Nix said. Instead they held a shorter one-day festival with some social distancing.

This year they are planning for a full fair, running Sept. 17-19, in New Portland. Nix said they are discussing potential changes internally, and will follow CDC guidelines. Regardless of the outcome, this kind of uncertainty is difficult when planning an event like this, Nix said.

“It takes a lot to plan these things and to be at the 11th hour and hear that things are canceling is tough,” Nix said.

Rupert Pratt, the chair of the board of directors for the Farmington Fair, said that as of now the event is “full steam ahead.”

Dan Smith shouts to get his draft horses Joker and Peanut to pull during the 3,200-pound weight competition in the packed livestock pen at the 2018 Farmington Fair. Morning Sentinel file

Like others in the area, they did not hold the fair last year, and have heard from earlier fairs that there has been high attendance this year as people look for a return to normal events.

The fair is scheduled for Sept. 19-25, and will follow CDC guidelines as much as possible, Pratt said, and organizers plan to put up signs to recommend masks for the indoor portions of the fair.

That said, it is still possible that they could have to call it off, Pratt said.

“If they said that we had to do other stuff that made it impossible for us to do, we would probably have to cancel,” Pratt said. “But we still have our fingers crossed and are headed as if we are going to have a fair.”


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