Jefferson County Fair Park has been the premier spot in the county for large gatherings, not only the annual fair, but also the popular car shows and swap meets, horse shows, 5k runs, flea markets and community festivals such as Gemuetlichkeit Days.

In a practical sense, all of these remain up in the air as governmental officials at the national, state and county levels wrestle with how best to protect both the economy and the health of the populace while COVID-19 runs rampant worldwide.

While keeping in mind the rapidly changing landscape amid this pandemic, Jefferson County Fair Park officials remain cautiously optimistic, continuing to plan for future events, including the fair.

Amy Listle, the Jefferson County Fair and Park event director, outlined where things stand for now during an online Jefferson Rotary Club gathering last week.

She said that it has been a weird time coordinating fairgrounds events while working from home, but she said plans are going ahead for multiple events going into the future.

The county-owned and operated Fair Park aims to serve all citizens, young and old, to help locals showcase their talents and accomplishments, to celebrate local culture and heritage, to promote educational and entertainment opportunities, and to foster economic growth in Jefferson County.

Fair Park is active in numerous ways in area communities, she said. It cooperates with local chambers of commerce, is a member of the Jefferson County Tourism Board and the Jefferson County Agri-Business Club, works closely with local 4-H and FFA groups, has taken over the Jefferson County Dairy Breakfast formerly run by a community committee, and takes part in numerous local parades and events.

Likewise, the community contributes a lot to Fair Park operations as well. The fair, for example, has numerous community sponsors, and the facility itself has year-round sponsors that offset costs and boost opportunities at the local venue.

Like other large venues, Jefferson County Fair Park had to change its operations entirely the past month due to the state’s “Safer at Home” regulations in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been a true test,” Listle said, stating that the Fair Park always jas had a close relationship with county Emergency Management, and the pandemic situation only strengthened that relationship.

“Now we’re doing PPE (personal protection equipment) distribution,” she said. “And we have been working with Fort HealthCare to host safe blood drives to meet that need.”

Although county owned and run, Fair Park runs like a normal business.

It has some 90-plus acres of land, 15 buildings and 130,000 square feet-plus of indoor exhibit space, not to mention a licensed campground that brings in visitors not just during the fair, but throughout the year.

The campground currently is open, providing electricity, water and a dump station for campers.

Normally, Fair Park hosts 200-plus events per year, bringing in some 200,000-plus visitors annually.

Starting in March with the “Safer-at-Home” mandate, all of the normal events hosted by Fair Park ground to a halt, and everything that the it usually hosts in April was wiped off the calendar. Among the events was the popular Madison Classics Spring Jefferson Car Show and Swap Meet.

For now, Fair Park is open by appointment only and for special events like the emergency blood drives, with strict socia-distancing regulations enforced.

In the meantime, Fair Park employees are working on a lot of long-term maintenance projects.

Still on the calendar into the future are the rescheduled Jefferson County Dairy Breakfast and Furry Friends 5K for the Humane Society of Jefferson County, both reset for Aug. 22; the August Jefferson Rotary Club Brat and Burger fundraiser; and the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Fest and Gemuetlichkeit Days, set for September.

Whether the pandemic still will be severely curtailing public events in July can’t be predicted at this point, but at least for now, Fair Park officials are continuing to plan for the Jefferson County Fair, scheduled for July 8-12.

Fair attendance has hovered around 40,000 people per year recently, with 42,727 recorded visitors in 2015, 37,927 in 2016, 43,019 in 2017, 40,185 in 2018 and 38,831 in 2019. Traditionally, attendance numbers have reflected the weather, with drops when the fair experiences one or more days of inclement weather.

This year, the status of the pandemic likely will be the largestgreatest factor, even if the event is allowed to go on.

“We hope to still be able to host the fair, and we are working hard at that,” Listle said.

Entertainment already confirmed includes the traditional truck and tractor pulls, the demolition derby, a major concert by John Pardi, and another concert featuring a classic rock-n-roll act that has been booked but not yet announced.

Janelle Wenzel of Jefferson, who was selected earlier this year to be the 2020 Fairest of the Fair, has been promoting the fair online during this time of quarantine, and hopefully she will be able to take a more public role as regulations are relaxed.

Also set to return to the fair this year are the Junior Amateur Talent Contest, and the final year of the Sea Lion Splash Show.

The theme for the 2020 fair is “Year of the Goat.” Fair Park has been working with the City of Jefferson, which bought a goat at last year’s small animal sale and added it to the city’s small herd on Goat Island at the confluence of the Crawfish and Rock rivers in downtown Jefferson.

That goat is slated to return to the fair this summer as its unofficial mascot.

With the understanding that conditions and regulations are changing all of the time, Fair Park is keeping fans posted through its website; Facebook page; and Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat accounts. It also has done some work with Geofilters.

For now, the pandemic closures have thrown a monkey wrench into the works of how Fair Park usually is run. However, the upheaval of this year ultimately could wind up being a good thing. Listle said: It has made the fairgrounds an attractive location for new and different events and organizations that are having to reschedule activities originally set in different locations.

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