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West Virginia financially supports pandemic-impacted fairs, festivals

Laekyn McLaughlin washes the ears of her lamb at the 2019 West Virginia Interstate Fair and Exposition in Mineral Wells. The Interstate Fair was among hundreds of events around West Virginia to receive funding from the state recently. (File Photo)

PARKERSBURG — On Aug. 5, which would have been the first day of the 2020 Wirt County Fair, Debbie Hennen headed down to the mostly empty fairgrounds and shed a few tears.

“I just cried. I was like, ‘This can’t be happening,'” said Hennen, the president of the county’s Fair Association.

She’s been volunteering with the fair since 1992 and attending even longer.

But like many of their counterparts around West Virginia, the Wirt County Fair Association canceled their annual event because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last couple of weeks, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced grants from the Governor’s Contingency Fund totaling more than $2.7 million to nearly 400 fairs, festivals and organizations around the state.

This image of a wood duck will be featured in the Parkersburg Art Center’s exhibit of photography by Danny Carpenter. It opens Friday with a reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the center at 725 Market St. Those attending are asked to wear masks and maintain 6 feet of social distance. (Photo Provided)

“The people that are putting on our fairs and festivals are doing this because of their love for our state and our communities,” Justice said in a release issued Tuesday. “But they’re not flush with extra dollars and, at the end of the day, when something happens like what happened, where we had to stop our fairs and festivals, it put us in jeopardy of losing many of them altogether.

“To me, that’s just not acceptable,” he said. “I’m a real believer that these events are a part of our identity, part of the fabric of who we are. We have to be able to help preserve our fairs and festivals and keep them going, and I’m really proud to be able to do this.”

Randall Reid-Smith, curator for the West Virginia Department of Art, Culture and History, said if events were canceled and their appropriation from the state had not been used, the money was to be returned.

“But the Governor’s Contingency Fund will cover that,” he said.

A total of $1,566,388 was announced Aug. 13 for 330 fairs and festivals for money they would have received out of the state budget for the events, according to a release from the governor’s office. Of that, $300,000 went to support the State Fair of West Virginia

Children enjoy rides at a past Wirt County Fair. The fair was among hundreds of events around West Virginia for which funding from the state was announced recently. (File Photo)

The second round of funding, announced Aug. 18, included 64 grants, totaling $1,144,010.

The Wirt County Fair was included in the first round, getting $1,485 to match the amount it normally receives from the state Cultural Center, Hennen said.

“What we’re going to do is save all of that money to offset costs for next year,” she said.

The next edition of the fair is already slated for Aug. 4-7, 2021. Hennen said it wasn’t in danger of going under because in addition to losing the revenue, there were fewer expenses, like electrical and water bills.

For a typical fair, “if we make enough to pay the bills and have a little bit left to get things started for next year, then it’s been a good year,” she said. “But we love doing what we do.”

The real financial blow came to organizations like the Wirt County Volunteer Fire Department and school teams that use the fair as a fundraiser, Hennen said.

The Parkersburg Art Center received $11,881 in the second round of funding. Artistic Director Abby Hayhurst said the money won’t support one specific event but will provide just under 10 percent of what it costs to mount a season’s worth of exhibits.

The Art Center usually receives between $12,000 and $15,000 a year from the state, she said.

“We were then afraid that we wouldn’t get it because of the situation, and then we were delighted when we did get it,” Hayhurst said.

Evan Bevins can be reached at ebevins@newsandsentinel.com.

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Other Mid-Ohio Valley events and organization receiving funding included:

Wood County

* Belleville Homecoming: $11,881

* Moon Over Mountwood Fishing Festival: $1,782

* Ohio Valley Beef Association: $1,485

* Parkersburg Homecoming: $8,754

* Riverfest: $1,782

* Taste of Parkersburg: $2,970

* Volcano Days of Mountwood Park: $2,970

* West Virginia Interstate Fair and Exposition: $4,812

* Parkersburg Art Center Inc.: $11,881

Calhoun County

* Calhoun County Wood Festival: $1,188

* Molasses Festival: $1,188

* Heartwood in the Hills Inc.: $5,040

Doddridge County

* Doddridge County Fair: $4,158

Gilmer County

* Cedarville Town Festival: $684

* Gilmer County Farm Show: $2,376

Jackson County

* Jackson County Fair: $2,970

* Mountain State Arts & Crafts Fair, Cedar Lakes: $26,732

* Ohio River Fest: $4,320

* Ripley Fourth of July: $8,910

Pleasants County

* Pleasants County Agriculture Youth Fair: $2,970

Ritchie County

* Pennsboro Country Roads Festival: $1,188

* Ritchie County Fair & Exposition: $2,970

* Ritchie County Pioneer Days: $684

Roane County

* Black Walnut Festival: $5,940

* Heritage Days Festival: $891

* Roane County Agriculture Field Day: $1,782

* Roane County 4-H Leaders Association: $2,970

Tyler County

* Sistersville Fourth of July: $3,267

* Tyler County Fair: $3,088

* West Virginia Oil and Gas Festival: $6,534

Wetzel County

* City of New Martinsville Festival of Memories: $6,534

* Hundred Fourth of July: $4,307

* Paden City Labor Day Festival: $3,861

* Pine Grove Fourth of July Festival: $4,158

* Smoke on the Water: $1,782

* Wetzel County Autumnfest: $3,267

* Wetzel County Town and Country Days: $10,098

Wirt County

* Wirt County Fair: $1,485

* Wirt County Pioneer Days: $1,188

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