While many fairs cancel, fate of the 2020 Franklin County Fair still uncertain

  • Three children dance around with their inflatable aliens and dolphin at the 2019 Franklin County Fair. Staff File Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/28/2020 4:33:02 PM

While some local fairs and festivals set for the late summer and early fall have already been canceled, others are holding out hope to continue this year.

Mike Nelson, president of the Franklin County Agricultural Society, which organizes the Franklin County Fair each September, said those involved in planning the fair plan to have a decision on whether to cancel by June.

“We’re still waiting to see what happens over the next few phases as the state opens up,” Nelson said. “We still have time before we have to make a definitive decision.”

According to Nelson, the Three County Fair in Northampton and the Big E in Springfield are continuing to plan for a season while evaluating the lasting public health emergency. Other fairs, like the Cummington Fair, have already been canceled.

Heath Fair

The Heath Agricultural Society this week announced the 103rd Heath Fair will be postponed until 2021.

According to Jessica O’Neill, Heath Agricultural Society president, Heath held a board meeting this week and voted unanimously to cancel this year’s fair, and close the fairgrounds for the season. By closing the whole fairgrounds, all event rentals are canceled as well.

“This marks the second time the fair had been canceled, the other time due to polio,” O’Neill said.

The agricultural society will continue to maintain the Heath Fairgrounds, and some special projects will continue. O’Neill said she is looking into the possibility of reallocating money to address additional improvements to the fairgrounds. If approved, there will be a list of special projects that volunteers and members can get involved with.

O’Neill also said the Heath Agricultural Society plans to put together a design group to make a commemorative T-shirt that can be ordered online. These T-shirts will keep with the spirit of annual fair T-shirts, but will pay tribute to this uncommon year when the fair did not take place.

Yankee Engine-uity

The 2020 Yankee Engine-uity show, normally held in June at the Orange Municipal Airport, has been canceled. This would have marked the 44th year for the show, which features antique steam engines, tractors and cars along with a flea market, live bands and a tractor parade.

Yankee Engine-uity is run by the Central Massachusetts Steam, Gas & Machinery Association (CMSGMA), an organization focused on promoting and encouraging the restoration and preservation of early engines, tractors and machinery. Jim Desjardins, the association’s secretary, said organizers canceled this year’s event at the end of April.

“We were waiting to see if there was any way for us to still plan enough to make it happen,” Desjardins said.

He said it proved difficult to get food, waste and parking attendants to commit without definite confirmations the event would open up to groups of more than 10 or 25. At the time of the final decision, Desjardins said, it was still unclear if the town or state would allow the event to be held. Remote planning also proved difficult as June approached.

Orange Solstice Riverfest

On May 21, the Orange Solstice Riverfest took to its Facebook page to announce the 2020 festival is canceled. This would have been the seventh year for the event, which normally features fire pits on the river, an illuminated boat parade and live music.

Ashfield Fall Festival

The Ashfield Fall Festival, a free event on Ashfield’s Main Street in October, is usually held rain or shine, but the 2020 festival has been canceled due to COVID-19 related health concerns, according to the festival’s website. The annual event offers craft and art exhibits by more than 50 exhibitors, locally-grown and prepared foods, live music and dancing, the Pumpkin Games and other children’s activities, and book and tag sales.

‘Bee’s Knees’

This year would mark the 172nd annual Franklin County Fair, with the theme titled “It’s the Bee’s Knees.” While Nelson recognized there is a great desire for socialization and events that will get people out of the house, he said maintaining public health safety is the top priority. Once gatherings are approved, Nelson said the fairgrounds is the perfect place for social events.

“We have hopes of hosting the fair, but there is certainly a lot of time for things to happen, both positive and negative,” Nelson said. “By all means, if it does occur, it would be very modified and a very different fair.”

Nelson said some aspects of the fair would likely be canceled or adjusted to meet health safety and social distancing guidelines. For example, he said the Demolition Derby would be one of the first activities postponed until 2021 because the event sees a large audience sitting close together.

According to Nelson, several organizations who hold summer events separate from the main fair have canceled or postponed their events until 2021. Other events scheduled for July, August and September are still uncertain.

“The fairgrounds is a nonprofit so we rely on our rentals and the September fair to get the finances needed to stay open year after year,” Nelson said. “It’s a very tough time for everyone, and we’re certainly in the same boat as many other folks.”

Nelson said the fairgrounds makes enough money every year to pay the bills and carry a small amount over for the next year’s activities. If the fairgrounds is not able to have any rentals this year, Nelson said it would be a financial hit.

The Franklin County Agricultural Society is also dealing with the cost of an erosion repair project on the fairgrounds property. A GoFundMe was started in February 2019 to raise money to fix the erosion problem, but it has only collected $642 to date. Last year, former agricultural society President Fred Steiner said he feared such a large debt “could quickly put the fair out of existence.”

“We know it will be at least a couple hundred thousand dollars, but at the same time we know people are also in dire straits, so it feels inappropriate to ask for donations right now,” Nelson said.

He said the agricultural society is still working to maximize erosion control while minimizing costs. The project planning is ongoing and planners were hoping to break ground this summer, Nelson said, but progress has been delayed due to the pandemic.

Last year, the agricultural board pursued funding through the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), but the federal agency that oversees MEMA determined not to provide any money because the agricultural society is a nonprofit and not a public body. While the Roundhouse and other buildings at the fairgrounds are not at risk of falling off the edge of the ravine, the future of the nonprofit society is threatened by the expense.

For those who feel they can afford to, donations to help with the mudslide and embankment collapse issue can be sent to: FCAS — Franklin County Fair, P.O. Box 564, Greenfield, MA 01302.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.

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