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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

4-H parents speak out against fair date change

By Kyle Vuille

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

The possibility of moving the 2019 Dawson County Fair to June to coincide with the availability of a carnival was met with a largely negative response from parents of 4-H children during the Dec. 5 county commissioners meeting.

The pressure from 4-H parents prompted the county Dawson County Commissioners to agree to hold off on a decision about future fairs until they see numbers from the 2018 events.

After finding no options for a carnival during the regular fair dates in August for next year, the Dawson County Fair Board signed a one-year contract with Northstar Carnivals to host a carnival the third weekend in June in 2018, making next year’s fair and carnival two separate events. 

Moving forward, the board is trying to determine if it will recommend moving the entire fair event to a June date or not offering a carnival at the fair.

The possibility of moving the fair to June has prompted negative feedback from the community, specifically those involved in 4-H.

On Tuesday, the conference room in the courthouse was packed with community members hoping to speak to the issue.

Fair Board member Larry Evans was the first to speak up, saying the carnival is a vital part of the fair. He recalled one particular year the fair didn’t have a carnival.

“It was a disaster and the community beat us up over it and we can’t relive that again,” Evans said. “We have exhausted all other options and this is the only one we have.”

The majority of the crowd in the conference room were parents and members of 4-H who were frustrated with the thought of the change and repeated each other’s thoughts on how it would affect 4-H, especially the livestock portion.

Dean and Marnie Rau were two of the parents who expressed opposition to the date change.

“Our concern is the producers where we get the animals from will have to start sooner,” Dean said, who said livestock numbers would be down. 

Tanya Gobbs said the change would drastically affect the livestock 4-H children because hogs and sheep come from seasonal breeders. 

One community member, Ryan Thorson, said he’s not opposed to changing the fair date, but is not in favor of the dates selected.

“In our situation, [and we are on the 4-H side, highly the animal interest] could we have animals ready for the end of June?” Thorson said. “We probably could, but we’d have to choose an early born calf which typically we don’t want to and there would have to be not too many days missed to have them ready by June.”

He said the change would affect his family and 4-H participation as a whole. He added his family likes to have show heifers and there are other options regionally (like Billings) to sell show class steers during the proposed time period.

Dean Rau also noted other 4-H events, such as canning, would be hurt as none of the produce would be ready to be canned. He added the change would hurt 4-H for years to come. 

Marnie said the six-week difference would take a lot from 4-H,questioning if the carnival is attracting the number of teens and young adults to justify the change in dates. 

Gobbs added the number of other activities going on in June, including baseball, softball, swim meets and church groups.

“You would be closing the door on a lot of kids,” Gobbs said.

Fair manager Tacee DeSaye said she spoke with the president of Williston’s fair board about their experience changing their fair to an earlier date. According to DeSaye, he said it was the best thing their fair board ever did. She added the president of the Williston fair board did say it took time for 4-H to get acclimated to the transition. It was later stated in the meeting, it took more than a few years to get the Williston fair back on track.

DeSaye said the Fair Board is tasked with making a decision that will benefit the largest population.

“It’s a hard decision, but we have to look at the entirety of the fair,” DeSaye said.

Dawson County MSU Extension agent Bruce Smith encouraged the commissioners to hold off on changing the fair date until after they see how the separate dates for the carnival and fair affect attendance in 2018.

“Everything that’s online basically says that carnivals are dead at county fairs and they’re going away and within 10 years, there won’t be any. There will be carnivals at state fairs, but probably not at county fairs,” Smith said.

He noted he understands the fair board’s urgency to nail down a longer contract with the carnival company, but he thought there is data to be collected after this year before any final decision should be made.

After hearing feedback mainly against moving the fair to June, Dawson County Fair Board member Brady Smelser said he wanted to address the positives of moving the fair to the earlier date. 

He said not having the overlap with the Billings Fair would give the Dawson County fair more opportunities to book better night stage acts. He said that  would help the rodeo event because they could attract better contestants. He also said he had spoken with swim team officials about moving their meet earlier as well as those involved in local baseball.

Smelser said 4-H still accounts for less than 8 percent of the fair. He also mentioned how much the fair helps 4-H with the annual judging fees and upkeep of animal pens and facilities.

According to Jackie Stinnett in the MSU Extension office, last year’s youth numbers for 4-H were 81. Thirty-four individuals served as 4-H leaders.

Marianne Lassle, another supporter of 4-H, said the leaders of 4-H put in just as much blood, sweat and tears into the upkeep and operation of the livestock portion of the program as the Fair Board does.

After all public comments were taken, county commissioners Doug Buxbaum and Gary Kartevold were both in agreement to see how the upcoming fair and carnival works out before any decisions are made for future dates. 

Kartevold said gate admission fees and headcounts at both the carnival and fair would help commissioners make their decision when the time comes.

DeSaye spoke up and said she was on the phone with the owner of Northstar Carnivals Tuesday morning and they were inquiring about a three-year contract with the company to ensure their spot in the coming years. The contract would remain contingent on how well the carnival fared being separate from the fair.

DeSaye and another fair board member emphasized both parties – the fair board and the carnival company  – can opt out of a longer contract if splitting the carnival and fair doesn’t work out.

Smelser also brought up that 4-H is already reluctant with having a year and a half to make a transition, so if they wait even longer to make the decision, will it be already too late for 4-H to make the changes to be ready in time for June 2019.

Commissioner Kartevold concluded the discussion by saying the reliance of all the entities on each other makes trying to please everyone a difficult task.

“It’s a no end deal,” Kartevold said. “The carnival is being held hostage by the fair and the carnival is being held hostage by 4-H.”

Buxbaum and Kartevold said a decision for 2019 and the following years will be made after the county receives more information on the results and impacts of both events coming spring and summer.


Reach Kyle Vuille at

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