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Joy Kinsey wasn’t sure if her family would purchase as much livestock as usual for her children to raise over the summer and show in the 2020 Bowman County Fair.

Kinsey leads a group of students in the Bowman County 4-H Clubs, including her three children, Kaylee, Casey and Johnny. As the coronavirus continued to leave its mark, the Bowman County Fair, like many others across the state was postponed, and Kinsey said the 4-H show may look significantly different this summer.

Despite that, she went ahead with purchasing lambs and rabbits to add to the steers they raise for her children to work with on their family ranch.

“The whole reason we do 4-H is because of the responsibility and the learning that comes from that for the kids,” Kinsey said. “So that was more important than the sale or the actual show.”

Throughout North Dakota, county fairs are seeing the need to modify, postpone or cancel, some for the first time in their history, because of safety concerns around the pandemic. That’s leaving families like the Kinseys feeling the loss of a long-running summer tradition.

“As a board we decided that that was the route we would go just for the safety of our community and financial responsibility,” said Beth Criswell, a Bowman County Fair board member.

The county plans to still hold its demolition derby and truck and tractor pull throughout July and August in place of the fair.

Like Bowman, many of the state’s smaller counties postponed their fairs to the end of the summer and modified them, such as canceling the carnival, entertainment or indoor activities.

Across the state in Pembina County, organizers are continuing with a similar plan. Known as one of the longest running county fairs in North Dakota, the event has never been canceled entirely in its 127-year history, said Fair Board President Scott Hartje.

The Pembina County Fair, originally planned for June 25-27, will now take place Aug. 6-8. There will be no live entertainment and the fair will include a modified 4-H Achievement Day.

“We’re still moving ahead, trying to get something worked out and get something done. Especially for our 4-H students so they can get some normalcy,” Hartje said.

Larger fairs like the Red River Valley Fair in West Fargo, have canceled their 2020 event altogether. With around 100,000 attendees annually, the fair could not have gone on as normal while following state and federal health recommendations, said Breann Lenzmeier, marketing and sponsorship coordinator.

Lenzmeier said it’s hard to predict the financial impact the cancellation will have, given how big the fair is. The fairground is hosting events including drive-in movies to make up for the disappointment and loss of the fair this year. The drive-in will show movies every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday evening and has concessions available.

“[It’s] a way for people to come out and (have) something to look forward to, with everything that’s been happening with COVID-19. It’s a safe way for people to be out and about,” Lenzmeier said.

The Pierce County Fair in Rugby, which draws 3,000-4,000 attendees each year, is another of many that were canceled because of health concerns. In addition to the financial impact the cancellation will have on the community, fair President Don Jelsing said there is also an “emotional letdown” among residents. He said for some people in the county, the fair is their vacation time each summer.

The funds that would have paid for fair entertainment will instead be used to build a new barn on the fairgrounds, said board member Don Sobolik. He said this way, even though the event was canceled this year, the board will continue working on developing the fair for future years.

For Kinsey, the Bowman County Fair has always been a big part of her summer and is an integral part of her community. She was part of the Bowman County 4-H as a child and said the fair is always something to strive for, as well a way for the community to come together each summer.

“It’s that time where we get to come together and, yeah, we’re competing, but at the same time we are just spending time with our friends and doing the things that we love and being around like-minded people,” Kinsey said.

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