Pandemic impacting some Kansas State Fair venues, but ticket sales strong

John Green
The Hutchinson News
Bryan Schulz is the new general manager of the Kansas State Fair replacing interium general manager Dr. Ed Berger who had been in that role since Oct. 26, 2020. Schulz's first day in his new job was August 2, 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic will result in less participation in a few areas at the 2021 Kansas State Fair, the fair’s general manager reported, including a shuttered Birthing Center and fewer school groups.

That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, there will be fewer youngsters at his year's event since the fair issued more than 6,000 gate tickets to schools in Reno County for them to distribute to students.

IdeaTek and Cargill Salt sponsored the tickets.

General Manager Bryan Schulz said the Birthing Center won't operate this year due to a lack of veterinarians. Kansas State University veterinarians usually staff the building. Schulz said he received a call just last Wednesday informing him of the issue, which he said was related to COVID-19, but he had no details.

“If we don’t have any vets (veterinarians) it can’t operate,” Schulz said. “Vet techs can’t be there by themselves.”

Schulz said he also heard some other state agencies, including the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, planned to set up static displays, but they would not be staffed.

“We’re waiting for the day to start (to see if that’s true,)” he said. “Until we open up, that’s about all I can say.”

Schulz said the number of schools that will be bringing classes out is down, “with field trips cut.” But fair staff anticipated those students, since they are receiving tickets, would come out with the family instead.

During a daily Kansas State Fair Board meeting preceding Friday’s official opening, several board members acting as liaisons with specific areas of the fair reported early numbers appeared to be down. Others reported full barns and lots of pent-up excitement after last year’s event was canceled.

-- Board member Kathy Brazle said a Ferris wheel was being raised Friday morning near the rabbit barn, but there appeared to be fewer carnival booths set up this year.

-- The sheep barn, which at the last fair broke participation records, “had a few open pens,” noted board member Nick Ketzner. “But we’ll see how they are at the end of the day.” He also said the beef barn, which he’d been told "was busting," when he walked through, "seemed slight.”

-- Static displays in Centennial Hall and the 4-H building were at about 80% of normal, based on entries, reported board member Greg Hadley,  director of Extension at K-State Research and Extension. However, because of fewer entries, all of them now may be displayed, rather than just the top three winners in each category as planned.

-- “A lot of Explore Kansas people are dropping out,” reported board member Holly Lofton. “We don’t know if its city rules (the booths promote cities and attractions around the state) or that they’re having a hard time getting volunteers to staff the booths. Some are worried about COVID, but a lot of young people are coming in to step up.”

-- The number of inmates who will be working on the fairgrounds also will be down, Schulz said, though they still expect 50 to 60, “depending on the day."

The inmates help patrol trash, remove animal waste and do other tasks. “We met with the warden, and he said he’d do his best to get as many as he can. That’s all we can ask. We have a very good relationship with the prison.”

-- Fair staffing itself is down about 25%, Schulz said, primarily due to an inability to fill positions employees were furloughed from last year that led many to quit. That’s resulted in several key staff having a lot of jobs.

“They have definitely jumped in with both feet and both arms and taken control of things,” Schulz said. “(Interim manager Ed Berger) and I thank all of the team who do what they have done with COVID and all this stuff. They’ve done a tremendous job.”

-- Also reporting were Hutchinson Fire Chief Steven Beer and EMS Director Dave Johnson.

Both men said they were expecting a lot of medical activity due to the heat forecast for the first half of the fair, including 101 degrees on Saturday and 99 on Sunday.

Beer said his staff has visited with vendors over the past two days as they set up, providing some preventive education, such as where to locate propane tanks and other “tricks of the trade and the right way to do things,” he said.

The fire chief advised the board they plan to use a ladder truck to display a large American flag over the People’s Bank Arena on Saturday, to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

-- Some $63,000 in tickets, including gate and event tickets, were sold in the last 24 hours, the board was advised, bringing the total sold for this fair since December 2019 to $1.126 million.

Some 64,000 advance gate tickets were sold, and several ticket packages have sold out.