Colorado State Fair Organizers Consider Backup Plans While Event Is At The Mercy Of State Restrictions

Pueblo Colorado State Fair Off Season
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Colorado State Fair fairgrounds are quiet un the off season, Jan. 7, 2019.

Colorado State Fair officials are considering what this year’s event could look like if they can’t carry out the competitions, carnivals, concerts and other showcases that attract hundreds of thousands to Pueblo every summer.

The fair is scheduled to run from Aug. 28 through Sept. 7. But because of COVID-19, the annual event is at the mercy of state restrictions. Colorado still has a ban on public gatherings of more than 10 people.

“We kind of look at the fair as plan A,” general manager Scott Stoller said. “We’re working on plan B, which is having some of those activities to where they can be onsite with social distancing. If for some reason that’s not possible, we’ll go to plan C, which is doing stuff virtually."

Officials plan to decide their course of action at least 60 days before the start date. In the meantime, they’ve pushed back things like concert ticket sales and entry form deadlines to late July.

“If we wanted to pull the plug on the big state fair, that’d still give us the chance to save some resources,” Stoller said. “There’s really a lot of cost that happens in that 30- to 60-day window, in staff costs, marketing costs and our vendor fees.”

On top of its year-round staff of 24, the Colorado State Fair hires more than 600 temporary employees. And those hires really ramp up in July, Stoller said.

Last year’s event also saw 185 commercial vendors and 30 food vendors. The fair attracted 466,380 people over 11 days. And all that activity generates around $29 million for the region.

“One of the biggest things I think people look at is the youth programs with 4-H and FFA and that connection between agriculture and the community,” Stoller said. “Our primary focus would be, if we couldn’t have a fair, trying to preserve some youth activities.”

He added that the Junior Livestock Sale and other competitions could be held online, if necessary.

The Colorado State Fair is a highlight for many 4-H participants, said Ashley Stokes, the associate vice president for engagement and extension at Colorado State University, which oversees 4-H programs statewide. Activities at the state fair range from livestock auctions to cake decorating.

“What an amazing opportunity for our youth to be able to engage and connect with youth from across the state and to learn from each other and the experiences they share,” she said. “Those are the kind of things we really want to try to preserve, whether we’re doing that face-to-face or in a virtual manner.”

For the time being, officials with the Colorado State Fair are still planning for the event as they have in the past, even with their office closed. The fairgrounds even have a drive-up COVID-19 testing site that runs Tuesday to Friday through May 29.

“This year is definitely going to be a challenge, no matter how it goes forward,” Stoller said. “We’re going to do whatever’s in the best interest of public safety.”