Berrien County Youth Fair hosts limited, closed showcases in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic

BERRIEN SPRINGS — The Berrien County Youth Fairgrounds, 9122 U.S. Highway 31, were manicured and ready for exhibitors on Tuesday morning. The day was perfect weather for the formerly scheduled Kids Day at the fair, where carnival rides, attractions, shows and fair food were originally scheduled to delight children before they returned to school later this month.

Instead, the fairgrounds were mostly vacant. The stage sat empty. Commemorated benches lining the paths where patrons would usually be taking a break and enjoying a corn dog or elephant ear sat vacant. The usual lights and sounds of the fair were silent.

As COVID-19 mandates and safety precautions around gathering in groups continue in Michigan, it was announced mid-June the Berrien County Youth Fair officials were postponing the 75th anniversary of the BCYF. Instead, on Aug. 16 through 21, the fairgrounds are hosting the “Berrien County Showcase-Where Youth Are Essential” event in a limited format, open only to exhibitors.

According to fair manager Karen Klug, the weeklong event usually draws around 100,000 attendees to the grounds. In a usual year, there are around 2,000 exhibitors in the youth fair.

This year, competitions are being shown via a live stream on the BCYF website. Klug said not all competitions were continued.

Categories that attracted too many or too few applicants could not be accommodated safely under the current guidelines from the state, Klug said.

The attractions began with the beef, craft and horticulture showcase on Sunday. Monday’s showcase included goats. Tuesday included both sheep and dog showcases. For Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the equine showcase will dominate the streaming schedule available on the BCYF’s website.

Despite the emptiness of the fairgrounds, the showcases that were hosted brought out family members to the fair and to the live stream. Each competitor was allowed to bring just two people with them.

For Trent George, 17, Niles, the fair is a family tradition.

George’s grandfather, Charles Durm, showed at the first BCYF.

“This is a family that where you’ve got four generations of people that have exhibited at the fair in this group,” Klug said. “I think that’s cool.”

Durm was in attendance Tuesday.

Trent was showing his yearling ewe, which was shown in the breeding category.

“She was champion breeding ewe,” Trent said.

George said sheep are year-round for him and his brother, who have 80 head of ewe.

This year’s fair was different than any other his family members have participated in.

“It was a little bit different, but still very fun,” George said. “I’m thankful for the fair still trying to put something on. It was very helpful so the kids that worked hard all year have something to work for in the end, and could show off what they did.”

Matthew Carpenter, 20, of Eau Claire, and reigning 2019 Berrien County Youth Fair King, was on the fairgrounds Tuesday showing his German shorthair pointer, Roxy. He has been participating in fair exhibitions at the BCYF since he was 6-years old.

“We have about 10 competitors this morning,” Carpenter said of the dog showcase. “It’s going well. This morning, we did obedience and rally, and this afternoon, we will do showmanship and agility, which is the obstacle course.”

Carpenter said the showcase is not doing formal placing this year with ribbons. However, he would be receiving his scorings.

“She did very well in both of the events,” Carpenter said of the events Roxy and he had completed.

Without the usual fair activities, Carpenter said one of the biggest differences this year was how quiet the fairgrounds were.

“At the same time, it makes it less stressful in many ways,” he said.

In years past, Carpenter has also worked with rabbits to showcase and compete. This year, with rabbits no longer on the schedule, he has dedicated much of his time to training Roxy.

“Especially with everything going on, it has been a lot of training at home,” he said. “Including dog meetings, everything is very socially distanced.”

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