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'Normal as normal can be': Columbia County Fair returns for 170th year
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'Normal as normal can be': Columbia County Fair returns for 170th year

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The 170th Columbia County Fair should look like a typical fair in July after being held virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

“We heard from a lot of people who certainly missed it and they wanted it to come back and be as normal as normal can be,” Columbia County Fair Board President Paul Becker said. “It took a lot of cooperation between ourselves, the city of Portage, the 4H and FFA groups and all of our vendors saying they’ll make this go one way or another.”

The event will be held from July 21-25 at the Columbia County Fairgrounds in Portage thanks in large part to the easing of local and statewide COVID-19 restrictions, fair organizers said. Attendees won’t be required to wear masks or social distance but hand sanitizer stations will be set up throughout the event.

“If you don’t feel well, please don’t come,” Board Secretary Marianne McMillan said. “If you want to wear a mask and social distance, please do.”

Youth and adult projects will be shown in the Bidwell Room where attendees will be spread out significantly more than usual since there are no school projects this year, McMillan said. Food service will be arranged so that workers don’t stand too close to each other and the carnival rides will be shut down periodically throughout the day for sanitization.

Sheep readied for judges (copy)

Kyliegha Daniels shears her sheep Goofy at the 2019 Columbia County Fair in Portage. This year's fair was canceled due to COVID-19, forcing groups that would normally show animals, art projects and other exhibits to adapt with a virtual showcase.

Admission and parking will be free and those interested in attending should visit the Columbia County Fair’s Facebook page for possible event updates. There is significantly less parking at the fairgrounds than usual due to construction of new baseball diamonds, so the fair board is discussing the possibility of using a shuttle system on the Friday and Saturday of the fair.

“I sure am happy for the kids being able to show their animals and getting together again,” said Board Treasurer Russ Shaw.

Children who participated in last year’s virtual fair enjoyed the experience but ultimately suffered from low participation, Becker said. Prior to the virtual fair, the last time the fair was not held in person was during World War II.

“This gives them a chance to showcase their animals, their skills, their hard work and gives them experiences with kids from all over the area,” Becker said. “They can continue to make friendships and meet people. They learn how to manage their time to get their entry in there and get it judged and have a finished product all ready to go. These are skills that continue into their adult life, and they have fun doing it.”

Several animal shows will be held in the days leading up to the fair’s official opening of July 21. Grandstand events including a tractor/truck pull, demo derby and full rodeo begin that Thursday and continue through Saturday night.

For a complete schedule of the fair, visit portagewi.com.

McMillan said the fair typically draws between 15,000 and 20,000 people under normal circumstances and she doesn’t expect much of a drop in 2021.

“I think people are just so glad to get out and about that we’ll be surprised by how many attend,” she said. “Even with two less grandstand events I think people will be there after a whole year of basically not being able to do much. It gives them a place to go.”

Those interested in volunteering at the fair can call McMillan at 608-697-1152.

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.

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