“This feels very strange,” Brad Tipton said this week as he prepared to begin accepting entries in the beef category at the Canadian County Free Fair.
The annual event usually draws thousands of people to enjoy live music, a carnival, fair food, arts and crafts exhibits and a livestock show.
This year, the fairgrounds are virtually empty.
There is no carnival, nor are there food vendors or arts and craft exhibitors.
The fair board, in July, announced that this year’s fair was essentially canceled. The only activities would be the livestock show, and even that was being changed.
In previous years, contestants would bring their animals in on Tuesday and they would remain at the fair until everything was completed on Saturday.
This year, it was a “show and go” event, as was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The animals were brought in on the day of their show and left as soon as it was completed.
Tipton said everything has gone smoothly.
“We’ve had no hiccups or hitches. It has worked well,” he said.
The decision to limit the fair this year is the result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed at least 11 people in Canadian County.
Officials said at least 1,501 people in the county have been diagnosed with the respiratory illness since March.
Of those, 1,291 have recovered, but there remains 210 active cases in the county, according to a report from the Oklahoma Department of Health.
“The fair board is glad to have this opportunity for the FFA and 4-H members to show the projects they’ve worked on over the summer,” said Tipton, who serves as the fair board secretary.
Parents and supporters were able to follow the livestock show via social media through the fair’s Facebook page.
He said hundreds of people watched Wednesday’s opening day events, which included sheep and goats.
The cattle show was on Thursday, while swine wrapped up events on Friday.
On Wednesday, the show was completed by about 3 p.m. and the fairgrounds were empty by 3:30 p.m.
The facilities were then sanitized for the following day’s activities.
Tipton said this was the only option this year to help the youth out.
There is not a state fair this year in Oklahoma City, and the Tulsa State Fair will also be limited.
Tipton said that unlike previous year, the fair board was not looking for huge crowds.
Last year’s fair drew the largest crowd in recent history, officials said at the time.
This year, Tipton said that despite the plea for people not to make the trip to El Reno, he had expected a few more people in the stands. But, he was glad they stayed away.
“Everyone is happy we went down this road. We want to get out of here without any problems. I think we did the right thing,” he said.
“You don’t want to tell people not to come out, but it goes back to helping the FFA members and the 4-H youth, and letting them feel good about the projects, and that mission was accomplished,” Tipton said.
Participation was not down, he said, pointing that every school that normally participates was represented.
“Participation was what we expected,” he said.
This is expected to be the last year the fair will be held at the current fairgrounds.
Construction is well underway on a new site south of El Reno at the intersection of Jensen and Alfadale roads.
Steel for the new expo center and arena has already begun going up, and officials said they expect the $15 million project to be completed in time for the start of next year’s fair.