With the weather teasing spring earlier this month, the same question has been on every Steele Countian’s mind: Will there be a fair?

Steele County Free Fair Manager Scott Kozelka is happy to assertively answer, “Yes!”

“We are having a fair,” Kozelka said, confident in his positivity. “No ‘what if’s’ and no ‘wait and see’s.’ We are moving forward like we would any other year.”

The SCFF Board continued as usual during its meeting Thursday with the discussions around vendors, food booths, entertainment and grandstand acts as the anxiously prepare for the return of the state’s largest county fair. On May 26 last year, the fair board had unanimously approved canceling the 2020 event due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, the 2021 fair was a mere 445 days away.

Now the countdown is at 152 days and the plans are falling into place.

“Being a late fair is awesome in this case,” Kozelka said, noting that their opening day of Aug. 17 plays well into the continual improvement of COVID-19’s presence in Minnesota.

“As more people are getting their vaccines and we continue to show progress in the state we are feeling really positive.”

Though there are definitely certain things still up in the air for the fair – specifically whether 4-H will be allowed to showcase while the public is on the grounds or what the spacing requirements between booths will ultimately be – Kozelka said it is slowly starting to feel like a normal pre-fair season as applications for vendors continue to come in.

“We have a couple vendors that aren’t coming back for one reason or another, but we already have a list of people waiting to come in,” Kozelka said. “We will probably have to change some stuff around – it’s sort of like building a puzzle at this point.”

Kozelka and several other board members were able to visit a county fair in Florida recently, where the state is completely open from any COVID-19 restrictions. Kozelka said they felt safe with the way the fair was set up and that adding extra handwashing/sanitizing stations and signs about wearing masks and social distancing seemed to help the patrons of the fair be considerate of others.

“We were already big on promoting handwashing at the fair. Think about it, before COVID-19, we had E. coli, swine flu, bird flu,” Kozelka said. “Now with this pandemic we have the added masks and hopefully by the time our fair comes, most people will have received their vaccine.”

Proudly showing off his vaccine badge (or Band-Aid) of honor on his left arm, Kozelka said he hopes as many people as possible will consider getting vaccinated to help promote herd immunity and allow for everyone to enjoy the fair this year.

Many of the acts for the various entertainment stages and the grandstand that were scheduled for the 2020 event have carried over to this year, though there were a couple unanticipated openings for the fair board to fill. Minnesota county music star Chris Hawkey – who first came to the SCFF in 2019 as one of the grandstand headliners – announced that he is taking a year off from touring, leaving one opening in the grandstand lineup that the board is still working on filling. The band Endless Summer, which was scheduled for the Fair Square stage, also had to cancel due to the death of a band member from COVID-19.

Every day that the fair gets closer, Kozelka said restrictions are loosening and things are looking more and more positive that the SCFF the community has always known and loved will return.

“With everything that has happened this last year, with all the loss and kids not being in school and so many community events having to be canceled, we need this,” Kozelka said. “We need to do this for each other.”

The 2021 Steele County Free Fair is scheduled for Aug. 17-22.

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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