Vermont fairgrounds on track to return this summer

By Seamus McAvoy/VTDigger

Vermonters can expect a return to amusement rides, fried food and demolition derbies this summer, as most fairs plan a revival after a year off due to Covid-19, including the Vermont State Fair at the Rutland fairgrounds, which will celebrate its 175th anniversary Aug. 17-21 with two demolition derbies and a rodeo, among additional entertainment and festivities in the works.

The Connecticut Valley Fair in Bradford is the only fair that will likely not open, Jackie Folsom, lobbyist for the Vermont Fairs and Field Days Association, told the House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry on Wednesday, April 28.

“All the other fairs are a go, and we are so excited,” Folsom said. Organizers are eager to return to “a little bit of normal, which we hope the fairs will bring you,” she said.

Some fairs might not offer the expanse of offerings in years past, Folsom said. For example, Deerfield Valley Farmer’s Day Fair could be limited to just some horse- or truck-pulling. 

Elsewhere, the Orleans County Fair recently began promoting its Memorial Day Weekend festivities, including gymkhana and a demolition derby, and the Tunbridge World’s Fair is planning a normal slate of events in September.

County fairs and field days were canceled by Gov. Phil Scott in May 2020, as the state looked ahead to an uncertain summer. Through the Agricultural Fairs Application, the Legislature appropriated $500,000 from last year’s Covid-19 relief bill to fair operators who lost income or incurred new expenses due to the cancellation. 

“They’re all gearing up, and they’re all excited,” Folsom said. 

Organizers have voiced concerns that fairground vendors and ride companies, in an industry that depends on some seasonal employment, would have trouble finding willing workers. They mirror a statewide challenge for reopening businesses to fill positions.  

For the most part, though, contractors are managing. Folsom said Dreamland Amusements, which services the Addison, Franklin and Caledonia county fairs, is still working to hire enough people for the summer.

The Fairs and Field Days Association is also monitoring Strates Shows, which services fairs in Pennsylvania and New York on either side of the Champlain Valley Fairs.

How county fairs will look and feel will largely be predicated on the success of the state’s Vermont Forward plan. There won’t be any restrictions on gathering or crowd sizes if the state hits its July 4 target for a full reopening, and masks may not be required for visitors. Most fairs take place later in July or August.

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