Pandemic changes format of Routt County Fair but not its traditions
HAYDEN — On Monday morning, 10-year-old Addison Whaley was busy getting her goats ready for the 4-H goat show at the 2020 Routt County Fair.
“It’s different, because not all of the animals are here,” Addison said. “We usually have steers and pigs, and they are all here at the same time.”
But this year, in the time of COVID-19, fair organizers elected to bring in different animals on different days to limit the potential spread of the novel coronavirus.
On Saturday, it was poultry, and on Sunday, it was rabbits, dairy and beef. Monday was reserved for goats and sheep, and Tuesday will feature the swine classes, which is expected to be one of the biggest indoor shows. The dog show will take place Wednesday, and the action moves into the arena for the horse show events on Thursday and Friday. The Junior Livestock Show, which usually closes out the fair on a Saturday night, has gone virtual. It will open at 8 a.m. Thursday and close at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Face masks have also become a common sight at this year’s fair. They are required for all spectators and officials inside the multi-purpose arena, but competitors don’t have to wear masks while working with animals in the show ring because of fears the mask might inhibit communication.
“For us, on the ranch, it hasn’t really changed much,” Addison’s mom, Shilo Whaley said of COVID-19. “Everything still has to be fed, and things still have to be done.”
Youth from 4-H and FFA will show off their projects before judges and a limited number of family members at the fairgrounds. Cameras will be streaming live video to the Routt County 4-H Facebook page at facebook.com/ColoradoStateUniversityExtensionRouttCounty4H/live.
Anyone interested in supporting Routt County’s youth can register to attend the Junior Livestock Show virtually at stockshowauctions.com. The sale goes live at 8 a.m. Thursday and will close at 7 p.m. Saturday. In addition to buying an animal, people can support the sale through add-ons, which are donations of any amount made to support a sale qualifier without purchasing the animal. All proceeds support Routt County 4-H and FFA participants.
But that’s not the case for the young competitors or those who enjoy attending the fair each summer. The fair has been limited to 4-H and FFA events, giving students the chance to complete the projects they have been working on all year.
“It’s been really hard for the kids in 4-H, because their grandparents can’t be here to support them, and it’s not as much fun when they can’t hang out with friends and run around playing,” Shilo said. “There’s a lot more to the fair than just showing your animals.”
But on Monday, it was clear that being able to show their animals was an important thing for those inside the ring.
“It was a lot of fun,” said high school freshman Ashton Nagel, who moved into the Steamboat Springs area from Fort Collins earlier this year.
She was competing in her first Routt County Fair.
“It’s sort of as special,” said Ashton, who collected grand champion and reserved champion awards for her goats in Monday’s show. “Normally, a lot of my family would be here watching me, but it’s kind of cool to know it’s all video broadcasted on the internet, and so they’re all watching from home.”
And despite the changes, the the work the competitors put in to raise their animals and then show them at the fair remains the same.
“I worked very hard to get these goats ready for fair,” Ashton said. “I’m very proud of myself that I was able to accomplish this.”
Shilo said she was disappointed the fair had to be cut back, and she has concerns the virtual livestock auction will not fetch the same prices as if it were held live. But she said her family never questioned moving forward with the 4-H projects, and she believes staying involved in the program has helped her family get through the pandemic.
“I think being able to focus on these projects was important,” Shilo said. “When something got canceled, we would just say, ‘Let’s redirect our attention.’ It just helped us keep our hope and stay positive.”
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