Summer 2020 in Grant County will be like no other.
Gov. Kate Brown has canceled large events statewide. Still, organizers of century-old events that commemorate the heritage and culture of the county are trying to reimagine how to hold events that require large group gatherings, but while staying within the governor’s guidelines.
While the governor approved the county’s Phase 1 request to reopen hair salons, barbers and gyms, gatherings are capped at 25 people. Brown’s directive is much more strict on concerts, festivals, fairs and large events through at least September, until the state has access to a treatment or vaccine for COVID-19.
Grant County Fair Manager Mindy Winegar said the Fair Board and the Emergency Operations Center are working on finding a way to hold the event through modifications that would comply with the state’s guidelines.
“We are still planning the 111th Grant County Fair, even though it will look different than our traditional fair,” Winegar said.
Winegar said staff, members of the Fair Board, 4-H and FFA are working on a plan for youth livestock shows and auctions.
“The fair staff and fair board will support them,” Winegar said. “The priority is the kids.”
EOC Incident Commander Dave Dobler said May 8 that his staff is researching a “phased approach” to holding large events to keep within state’s guidelines.
Dobler said the fair, scheduled Aug. 7-15, will be during the second phase of the governor’s reopening plan, and no one knows what the cap on social gatherings will be.
He said it is worth it to spend the time to see if the county can come up with a modified plan to hold 4-H and FFA activities at the fairgrounds — especially for the youth who would not be able to bring their livestock to the fair this year.
Dobler said the kids, many of them juniors and seniors, have put in countless hours on their projects and invest time into their livestock, and to have those opportunities, in addition to graduation and end-of-year ceremonies, stripped away would be devastating.
“I am just trying to come up with ideas so that we are not shutting everything down,” Dobler said. “I am trying to work inside the guidelines.”
Meanwhile, both Monument and Prairie City have canceled their respective Fourth of July fireworks shows.
The city of Monument posted on its Facebook page: “It is with great regret and sadness that the city has come to this decision, but please know that it was in the best interest of everyone; our community members, our families, elders and businesses.”
Prairie City Mayor Jim Hamsher said Monday the city council voted to cancel the annualfireworks show at its May 13 meeting.
“I just don’t see how we can have it,” he said. “It’s very sad.”
Monument Mayor Sahara Hyder said the city was holding out on making a decision about the fireworks show, hoping there would be wiggle room under the state’s guidelines. But another obstacle the city faced was getting sponsors onboard.
Hyder said 2020 was supposed to be a big year for Monument. In addition to having to cancel the high school graduation ceremony, they usually hold high school reunions for every graduated class.
Hyder said there would have been several classes celebrating and that they expected a big turnout.
Colby Farrell of the Whiskey Gulch Gang, which organizes the ‘62 Days Celebration in Canyon City, said the group floated the idea of an alternate route for a parade this year, but he said the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the regulatory agency and the city could not take on the liability.
Farrell said, if the organizers were to try and take on the liability, the Whiskey Gulch Gang could face fines of up to $70,000 and be stripped of its nonprofit designation.
Farrell said the group is going to try and come up with something at some point throughout the year, but it will not be a traditional ‘62 Days Celebration.
“Hopefully, we come up with something that will represent ‘62 Days,” he said. “Especially being the 99th (year), we were really looking forward to trying to get something big together for the hundredth next year.”
Farrell said the group’s demolition derby, scheduled to take place July 18 at the Grant County Fairgrounds, is in limbo, but the group is still holding out hope that they can pull it off at some point.
“The drivers put so much hard work into their cars, and for the people here in Grant County, it is one of the biggest turnouts of the year,” he said.
Farrell said, if restrictions ease earlier than expected, the drivers could be ready for derby in two weeks.
Farrell said people must stay safe and healthy, but he said people need to recognize the cost to the collective mental health of the community if the county is shut down for the summer.
“If we can’t do the things we’ve always done, I mean, it’s gonna take a toll on people’s mental health,” he said. “People need to get out and be a community here. We’ve always been pretty close community.”
Events across Oregon have been canceled — from the Oregon State Fair to Cycle Oregon, which planned rides through Grant County in September, to the BMW Riders of Oregon’s Chief Joseph Rally, which was scheduled in June to take place at the Grant County Fairgrounds.
The loss of Grant County’s summer events will have an impact on its already hobbled economy that relies on tourism to get through the year.
According to a survey from Businesses Oregon, Travel Oregon and the Oregon Small Business Development Center, these businesses are barely holding on.
The survey revealed that 70% of businesses report they have either closed or laid off employees or will have to do so by July if economic conditions do not improve.
Uncertainty and a decline in sales are the most significant challenges facing businesses during the pandemic.
Overall, rural businesses have been hit the hardest: 45% closed temporarily while 3% shuttered for good.