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Gallatin County commissioners decided Tuesday to cancel this summer’s Big Sky Country State Fair in Bozeman but allow Gallatin County 4-H to hold its traditional events at the fairgrounds.

The fair, which was set for July 15 to 19, would likely have brought together about 40,000 people for carnival rides, demonstrations, food booths, musical performances and 4-H programs, said fairgrounds manager Dennis Voeller.

With the commissioners’ decision, the 4-H programs are now the only events scheduled.

Gallatin County 4-H is developing a plan to hold its expositions, events and livestock sales in compliance with county and state social distancing and cleaning requirements, said 4-H agent JaNaie Godin. The plan could include limitations on the size of events and virtual livestock sales.

The Gallatin County Extension Office, which runs the 4-H program, will release more details about the events in the coming weeks.

At the request of county commissioners Joe Skinner and Don Seifert, Godin plans to work with the county to expand the 4-H events to include some concessions and performances, if permitted by the state and the Gallatin City-County Health Department.

“I think people understand the situation we’re in but want something,” Skinner said.

Voeller will provide space at the fairgrounds for the 4-H events just as he does every year. If the state and the health department allow the public to attend the events, there won’t be an admission fee like there is for the Big Sky Country State Fair. Instead, the money for the 4-H events would likely come from the fees 4-H participants pay and from donations or sponsorships.

“I think that ag is still a large part of this community, and I think that you will find that there will be people that step up and help support this fair like you have never seen before,” Seifert said. “… All of that said, I know it’s a little fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. … I know that it’s a bit of a challenge, but one thing I know is people are open to a challenge and can make a challenge work.”

The commissioners’ decision Tuesday aligned with recommendations the Gallatin County Fair Board made last week to cancel the fair based on concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Everything seems to be aligned against it,” said commissioner Scott MacFarlane, who serves as the commissioners’ liaison to the fair board. He added that holding the fair “seems precarious and a bit risky.”

Fairgrounds staff and the fair board have spent weeks examining whether they could hold the fair at a reduced capacity but ultimately decided the loss they would incur would be too great for a smaller event to work, Voeller said.

“It costs more to plan for less that at some point, it just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “… And do we even know that it’s safe? I don’t know that. And I’m having trouble getting a good, clear answer on that.”

This year, the Big Sky Country Fair was estimated to cost about $700,000 to organize, but Voeller expected the fair would bring in enough money to make a $70,000 profit. With the fair canceled, the fairgrounds will be able to recoup some of the investment it has made but is not yet sure how much money it will lose.

Last year, the Big Sky Country Fair generated a $54,500 profit. In 2018, the fair made $4,100 from the five-day event, and in 2017, it made $76,500.

County officials across Montana are grappling with similar choices.

Cascade County commissioners decided last week to cancel the Montana State Fair, which was scheduled for July 24 to Aug. 1, in Great Falls. However, Missoula County plans to hold the Western Montana Fair in August without some events like the carnival and rodeo.

Gallatin County’s 2021 Big Sky Country Fair is set for July 21 to 25.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at or at 582-2648.