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Pepin County Fair to merge with Buffalo County Fair

4-H Teen Leaders talked to younger 4-H members about their exhibits during the 4-H Cloverbud Judging at the 2017 Pepin County Fair. In 2018 the Pepin County Fair will be joining with the Buffalo County Fair. Photo courtesy of Marie Ritscher/Pepin County 4-H Youth Development Agent

This past July the Pepin County Fair celebrated its 140th anniversary, but to many that is now bittersweet as 2017 was the fair's last year.

Christina Hager, Chair of the Pepin County Fair Association, said after much discussion about continuing the Pepin County Fair, the decision was reached to combine their fair with the Buffalo County Fair. She said the biggest reason is because they want to give the youth a chance to make more out of their fair participation.

"It's all about the kids and making sure they have the [best] opportunity," said Pepin County 4-H Youth Development Agent Marie Ritscher.

Hager said by combining with another fair, the students will be offered more competition. She said with the Pepin County Fair being smaller than most fairs, students tend to compete against the same students year after year, so joining with another fair will give students an opportunity for more competition.

Pepin County youth will be able to participate in the Buffalo County Fair going forward.

"Buffalo County Fair was very open to accepting us to show at their fair," Ritscher said.

With increased competition available at the Buffalo County Fair, Hager said youth may try harder and will learn more through the experience. She said increasing the competition will make students improve their skills to compete and the end goal will be for youth to learn even more from their fair experience.

Many reasons, Hager said, led to their final decision to no longer hold the Pepin County Fair, but she said the biggest reason was because they were unsure if they could get facility space.

Previously the fair had rented the Arkansaw Elementary School, which is adjacent to the Pepin County Fairgrounds to host fair activities. However, the school district combined with Caddie-Woodlawn Elementary in Durand at the end of the 2015-16 school year. Hager said they were uncertain if they would be able to continue to rent the school property and building since it is up for sale.

While using the school property gave the fair more room and facilities for fair operations, it also had some limitations. Hager said being school property meant the fair could not allow alcohol or tobacco on the property which was a drawback to some. She also said the school's large grassy area meant they could not have any events that would tear up the property.

Another drawback was that while the Pepin County Fair Association tried hard to improve the fair with new attractions and events, it was difficult to do. Being a small fair, Hager said bringing in new vendors and events was difficult because there were not enough people attending the fair to make it profitable for vendors.

Hager said the Pepin County Fair Association tried hard to continue the fair but it was a lot of work since the association only had about six active members. She said it is a lot of work and time to plan and run the fair and they relied heavily on volunteers.

"It was completely volunteers, no pay," Hager said. "It was a struggle. Most people have good intentions but just don't have time to help."

Combining with the Buffalo County Fair will allow youth fair showers to compete with more youth and improve the educational experience which is the purpose of the fair, Hager said. There will be an adjustment period for the Pepin County fair showers as they learn the process for Buffalo County. One of these adjustments, Ritscher said, will be the new deadlines and applying online for everything, but she said this will be a good experience for them.

The Pepin County Fair Association will be having a meeting to officially dissolve. Hager said at that meeting the Association will decide to which non-profit organization in Pepin County they will give their remaining funds.

Ritscher said Pepin County 4-H will continue as normal and all their other events throughout the year will still be available for youth.

"Pepin County 4-H program is not changing," Hager said. "Nothing is changing other than where they are taking their projects."