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The Skowhegan State Fair will not disappear entirely in 2020, but neither will the oldest continually running agricultural event of its kind in the country be business as usual.
The fair’s annual more-than-weeklong run, scheduled this year for Aug. 13-22, won’t be held as usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but plans call for a scaled-down event in September that will include virtual access to the agricultural exhibits on display.
“The Skowhegan State Fair has made the difficult decision that the traditional fair we have all come to love and cherish will not go on as usual this year,” fair president Thomas Dillon said. “For 2020 we have decided to transform our traditional fair to a small exhibitor-only fair with many virtual aspects designed to bring the fair to our spectators at home.”
The Skowhegan event joins most other licensed agricultural fairs in Maine — 25 in total, according to the Maine Association of Agricultural Fairs — in canceling or drastically revising formats in response to the continuing coronavirus pandemic and guidelines established by state government in an effort to limit its spread.
Fair organizers instead announced plans to stage a small agricultural fair in September at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds, along with several virtual events to showcase presenters in each exhibition hall.
“The safety and enjoyment of the thousands of guests from both far and near is always our top priority,” Dillon said. “We waited it out as long as possible, but after months of consideration and communications with other fairs here in Maine and across the country, as well as state officials and the MAAF, it’s all too clear that we could not responsibly hold our traditional fair.”
The Common Ground Fair in Unity has three days of online programming scheduled Sept. 25-27, while events that have been postponed until 2021 include the Bangor State Fair, Blue Hill Fair, Cumberland Fair, Farmington Fair, Houlton Agricultural Fair, Piscataquis Valley Fair in Dover-Foxcroft, Topsham Fair, Union Fair and the state’s largest — the Fryeburg Fair.
Officials at three September fairs are still evaluating their chances for operating on schedule this year.
Kirk Ritchie, co-owner of the Springfield Fair, also has not determined whether this year’s event in that northern Penobscot County community will be held as scheduled on Sept. 4-5.
Officials from the New Portland Lions Fair, now set for Sept. 18-20, plan to meet Wednesday evening to discuss its 2020 future, while directors at the Oxford Fair plan to decide by early August whether to hold its event as scheduled on Sept. 16-19.
This year will mark the 202nd edition of the Skowhegan fair, which originally was organized in late 1818 and held in January 1819 in Somerset County of what was then Massachusetts. Maine did not become a state until a year later.
The fair’s original organizing group was known as the Somerset Central Agricultural Society; a name that was continued until 1942 when the official designation became the Skowhegan State Fair.
The current fairgrounds were acquired in 1856 with the original boundaries expanded periodically as additional acreage has become available.
It wasn’t until after use of the automobile became the norm that the Skowhegan State Fair began to grow from a small two- or three-day event attended mostly by those living within easy driving distance by horse and buggy to an event of longer duration and wider appeal.
The fair now annually draws thousands of visitors from across the nation and Canada.
Next year’s Skowhegan State Fair is scheduled for Aug. 12-21, 2021.