Big Sky Country State Fair canceled, commissioners say 4-H 'can pull it off'

Gallatin County commissioners vote on fair board's recommendation, give 4-H option for own event
Posted at 12:29 PM, May 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-27 14:33:54-04

Gallatin County Commissioners decided follow the recommendation of the Gallatin County Fair Board and cancel the Big Sky Country State Fair.

It’s a decision that commissioners say is not taken lightly, following the recommendation from the fair board last week to cancel amid COVID-19 concerns.

While the 4-H are finding ways to virtually to continue on, the board says there’s just no way to have rides like last year out of safety.

“I’ve been in this industry for multiple decades now and it’s a big deal to everybody,” says Dennis Voeller, Gallatin County Fairgrounds general manager.

To Voeller and the rest of the board, canceling the fair came down to two options, keep the fair, at full, or cancel this year’s completely.

“Fairs are one thing and it’s an opportunity to make lifetime memories with families and friends and to miss that opportunity, especially now when we probably need it more than we ever did, it’s emotional,” Voeller says. “It’s a tough decision to make.”

One concern: contracted services like vendors and entertainment.

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The board discussed how “scaling back” the fair and keeping services to “local talent” would be another financial difficulty to consider.

“We have vendors that are part of the culture of this community and they rely on this piece for their economic well-being,” Voeller says. “This culture in this valley is different. We have a high tourist rate and with the park opening back up, how this influx of people from other parts of the country is going to affect this economy and this culture, we are not sure what that’s going to do.”

Voeller says while the fair works with over $700,000 to operate annually, the 4-H is a different story.

“It was probably the right call,” Voeller says. “If we’d have had any semblance or indication that maybe we could be in a phase three, full open in the time frame that our programming counterparts could live with, we’d have gone ahead.”

Commissioners pushed: could 4-H still go on?

“I would love to have just a 4-H fair,” said commissioner Don Seifert during Tuesday’s meeting.

Turns out, they think it can.

“I believe with all of my heart that a 4-H fair can be pulled off,” Seifert said.

Commissioners say while the fair will be cancelled, they offered 4-H an alternative.

The passed motion: implement a “Gallatin County 4-H” program, where kids could potentially bring their animals to their old barns once more, following CDC rules.

“You see the connection to agriculture and a full understanding of what built this country, quite frankly,” Voeller says. “I think it’s really important that we maintain any platform that we can to make that connection.”

“I think it solidifies the long term of 4-H,” says JaNaie’ Godin, Gallatin County 4-H agent who also attended the meeting. “I feel like 4-H has a lot of support from our community and we are going to plan our event as best and as normal as we can.”

It’s good news to Godin.

“It’s always going to be a part of your life from when you were younger all the way to as an adult and you will always go back to that,” Godin says. “It’s not just a time for the 4-H families to show each other what they’ve done. It is to educate the community and let families be exposed to and what the 4-H kids have been working on.”

Godin says 4-H leaders will meet Wednesday night to discuss options, a “paper plan” to present to the health department.

“What’s plan A? What’s plan B?” Godin says. “What's the worst case scenario? What’s best case scenario?”

Then whether it’s building a robot or showing a pig -- maybe three -- the 4-H will be ready.

“I really do hope that we have some openness in July that we can, like, oh my gosh, there’s hope,” Godin says.

“We will come back from this,” Voeller says. “We’ll do something better next year and just try to move on.”

County commissioners say they will talk about this further at their board meeting next Tuesday.