PRESCOTT VALLEY - Local 4-H club leader Rosie Darby was planning to hand out Yavapai County Fair entry forms to her club members Monday.
Instead, she now will have to tell her approximately 115 Chino Valley Breakaway Latigos 4-H Club members that the fair has been canceled.
"Our kids are highly disappointed," said Darby, noting they can't compete in other county fairs or even the Verde Valley Fair in this county. "They've robbed kids in our county of this opportunity."
Many of the kids have been keeping close track of the issue, because they knew the fair was in jeopardy after the Yavapai County Farm & Agriculture Association canceled the Yavapai Downs horse racing summer meet and then filed for bankruptcy July 13.
The fair took place at Yavapai Downs and adjacent county property since they moved to Prescott Valley in 2001. But now the bankruptcy trustee won't allow the fair to take place there while it's in receivership, fair officials said. And it's uncertain who might own the site by the time the fair was scheduled to take place Sept. 29-Oct. 2. One investment group is reportedly talking with the trustee.
The fair started as the Northern Arizona Fair in 1913. Fair officials said the only years it hasn't occurred were 1918 because of the flu epidemic and 1933-47 during the Great Depression and WWII.
But the four-member Yavapai Fair Committee decided Monday that it faced too many obstacles to run the fair this year.
The bankruptcy trustee was going to allow the fair to move its equipment somewhere else and use it, and the Fair Committee was considering moving to the Tim's Toyota Center in PV, since the old fairgrounds buildings in Prescott now have other uses.
But the Fair Committee members weren't sure how much it would cost to move tons of equipment and rent tents and stalls, or whether they could afford it. They didn't have any perimeter fence. And they worried about how they could safely accommodate all the farm animals, said Fair Committee Member Phil Bybee, who also oversees the fair superintendents.
"There were lots of little obstacles that just added up," said Fair Committee member Robin Gossman, whose family has been involved in the fair for 36 years. She also lost her job at the racetrack.
"I don't think a lot of people realize the fair was dependent on the success of the racetrack," Gossman said. For example, the track fronted the fair about $80,000 each year until state grant money arrived.
The track also supported the fair with numerous employees, from the general manager to grounds manager to concessions workers, Farm & Ag Association Chair Jeff Wasowicz said. He was planning to exhibit his chickens at the fair, but agrees it faced too many obstacles this year.
"If we had 90 days, I'd say we could take a good long look at it," Bybee said. "But there's too many 'ifs' right now."
Kids react to news
The news about the fair cancellation spread quickly throughout the 4-H and FFA clubs in the county.
Darby's 14-year-old son Brawley planned to exhibit nine sheep at the fair.
"I'm disappointed, because it helps the community," Brawley said. "It teaches people what animals are.
"And the county fair is a fun practice show for all of us kids that go, and it's a family experience for a lot of people."
Mariah Finger, 17, is president of the Latigos Club. She planned to exhibit goats and a horse at the fair, where she has been showing animals for a decade.
"I was very upset" about the loss of the 2011 fair, she said. "I love the fair. I just love everyone getting back together again, and getting to show off what we've done all year. It's a big part of my life."
The only remaining big livestock show for kids in this county is the annual 4-H/FFA Expo in April.
"I wish they could have tried a little harder than they did" to make the fair happen, Finger said, although she understands the economy is tough these days.
"I think with a little more initiative they could have made it happen," Rosie Darby said.
Her 4-H kids were willing to help move equipment to another site like the Tim's Toyota Center.
"We just had to think outside of the box," Darby said.
Yavapai County Extension Office Director Jeff Schalau and long-time fair superintendents Barbara Killian and Betty Billingsley said they feel terrible for all the exhibitors, but it would have been hard to put on the fair.
"It's a sad thing; however, I'm a very realistic person and there just isn't a way they could do it," said Billingsley, who has been running the ag building since 1974.
"It would be a huge undertaking (to move), and I don't think we had the people to do it," said Killian, who oversees the junior livestock shows.
She and Schalau hope something good will come out of the cancellation.
"I think the fair could actually benefit by reinventing itself," Schalau said.
The Yavapai County Fair Association created the Farm & Ag Association in 2009 in an attempt to save the horse track by obtaining a second federal loan. The change put the Fair Association underneath the Farm & Ag Association.
But then the Farm & Ag Association decided it didn't have the money to run the summer racing meet this year.
When the Farm & Ag Association filed for bankruptcy, the Fair Association changed its name to the Yavapai Fair Committee to try to separate itself from the bankruptcy proceedings.
But the fair's future remains at the mercy of the outcome of the bankruptcy proceedings.
For example, the fair has $41,000 in the bank. While the Yavapai County Farm & Agriculture Association believes the $41,000 belongs to the fair, the bankruptcy trustee would have to approve the use of that money since the Fair Association was a subsidiary of the Farm & Ag Association, Wasowicz said.
Gossman and other volunteers are now moving all the fair equipment to a central location in the hopes that the Fair Committee gets to keep all its equipment, such as rabbit cages and fencing that's not worth much to anyone but those who put on the fair.
"All I can do is hope somebody in their infinite wisdom buys that place and has room for us," Gossman said.