COVID-19 forces cancelation of 2020 Fall River County Fair

Photo by Brett Nachtigall/Fall River County Herald-Star

A large crowd gathers near the Beer Garden at last year’s Fall River County Fair in Edgemont to watch the Hog Wrestling.


Fear of liability, lack of 4-H among factors for decision

By Brett Nachtigall


HOT SPRINGS – In 2019, the Fall River County Fair celebrated its 108th annual event in the community of Edgemont. However, due to the COVID-19 public health crisis, the 109th event is not going to happen until 2021.

The announcement was made last week following a quorum meeting of the Fall River County Fair Board where the decision was not unanimous, but ultimately ended in a vote by the majority to not hold the event this year.

“This decision was not taken lightly, but the health and safety of our attendees, participants and volunteers are of the utmost importance,” said Barb Rosane, who serves as the Secretary/Treasurer of the board.

When asked to elaborate more on the decision to not hold this year’s fair at the Fall River County Fairgrounds in Edgemont, Rosane described the following factors.

“We are a corporation, not relying on any county money,” Rosane said. “That being the case, if one person comes to the fair and spreads coronavirus, and another person contracts it and sues us, we lose everything. Insurance companies are not covering any liabilities concerning COVID-19. Our insurance agent provided that information.”

Concerns about attendance due to people’s health fears was also a major factor.

“The added money to certain events proved a problem in which we would more than likely lose money due to attendance,” she said. “These events usually make little or break even on a normal year.”

Rosane also said that ordering food for the Chuckwagon and Food Booth would be very difficult without having a accurate way to judge attendance.

Another significant reason was the fact that the 4-H Achievement Days would not be able to be a part of the fair this year.

Erin McGlumphy, the 4-H Youth Program Advisor for Fall River and Custer Counties, said the reason 4-H is unable to participate at this year’s fair is due to a directive passed down to all 4-H clubs statewide as part of consistent effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

McGlumphy said a letter was sent out to all 4-H families from Tim Tanner, Ph.D., who is the Director of the South Dakota 4-H Program. His letter described a three-tier plan as to how 4-H clubs can still participate in their usual summer activities depending on the various risk levels. He said 4-H is currently in what is described as Level A, in which in-person activities remain shut-down. Events are either virtualized or canceled dependent on local needs.

He expects restrictions to loosen soon and go to Level B, in which in-person activities remain discouraged and/or group size limitation remain in effect, but events may partially become in-person where practicable.

Once the spread of COVID-19 is determined to be “low risk,” the state’s 4-H program will move into Level C protocol, which resumes most in-person activities, but that is not expected to take place until mid to late August, which means most all county fair and Achievement Days activities cannot take place.

In his letter, Tanner described how 4-H programs are not able to follow local protocols related to COVID-19, but are instead tied to a much broader set of factors.

“As of mid-May 2020, the federal and state COVID-19 responses lean heavily on local decision-making and personal responsibility,” Tanner stated. “Local decision-makers consider a range of factors, but primarily they try to balance economics and public safety. Though they acknowledge the best thing to do for public safety is remain in quarantine mode, they are unable to look beyond the negative impacts to the local economy. Public universities do not have that decision-making flexibility; they are governed by statutes that require student safety as the highest priority. This safety-first requirement will produce long-term fiscal consequences for public universities nationwide.”

Tanner added that the 4-H program in each state is entrusted by statute to its land-grant public university, which in South Dakota is SDSU.

“As a result, the 4-H program folds into many of the same statutes that govern student safety in public higher education,” he said. “Thus, we must make decisions from an evidence-based safety framework. During normal times this framework makes 4-H a highly valued and trusted institution for parents, businesses, and community leaders. During the current era, this framework is a tougher pill to swallow in a state that places a high value on independence and personal responsibility. Though we understand the frustration, the safety-first framework will not change.”

Despite Fall River not having its annual August county celebration, the nearby fair board for the Custer County Fair has decided to go ahead with their event, despite 4-H’s lack of participation.

Tif Robertson, a member of the Custer County Fair Board, said details on how they are moving forward with the fair plans Aug. 6-9, 2020, will be ongoing but will include implementing CDC guidelines for safety and social distancing.

At this point, she said, planned events include a Ranch Rodeo and Ranch Bronc Riding, Team Sort, Live Bands and some other events. One traditional event not being held, she said, is their annual bull riding held on Saturday night, due to the largeness of the event and out of respect to their sponsors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to the fair not happening this August in Edgemont, the previously planned All-School Reunion is also not taking place this summer on the same weekend. The lack of those two events in Edgemont this summer will no doubt have a profound negative economic impact on the community.

“It is not what we all would like to see happen, but we need to be cautious not only for ourselves, but the many people who might attend,” stated Rosane.

Fall River County Herald Star

EDGEMONT OFFICE: 410 2nd Avenue   Edgemont, SD 57735-0660 | 605.662.7201
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