PORT ROYAL — At a time when many fairs and festivals are being canceled due to pandemic social distancing restrictions, going forward with an event involves some challenges and changes.
The Juniata County Fair runs Sept. 5 through Sept. 12 at the Port Royal Speedway on West 8th Street and offers a surprising amount of entertainment and activities.
“There’s not a lot of fairs going on right now, so we want to go as full force as we can,” said McKala Dressler, a fair board member and Fair Queen coordinator.
With so many county fair vendors shutting down for the summer, the board had to scurry to find replacements for some acts, including a different rides vendor and a circus act made up of several generations of the famous Wallenda family. In 2013, Nik Wallenda became the first person to cross the Grand Canyon on a wire.
“We had to search around a little bit for some of this stuff,” said Seth Koser, president of the fair board.
One of the deciding factors in going ahead with the fair was the fact that races at the Port Royal Speedway have been running smoothly for the past several months.
“We figured, there was no problem there, so why don’t we give the community something to look forward to during these times?” Dressler said.
Most of the fair will go on as usual, with rides, games, food, local musical talent, and truck and tractor pulls. The fair also hosts livestock demonstrations, a rodeo, animal dress-up parade, pony rides and a petting zoo. Demonstrations will be given by both Circus Incredible and the Oxen Dynasty.
One concession to the coronavirus is the closure of the two halls where things like quilts, canning and flower arranging were exhibited as well as the commercial building that held local businesses — social distancing in those spaces was deemed too tricky to risk. The businesses that normally occupy the commercial building do have an outdoor option this year.
“Most, if not all, have agreed to set up outside so they can still be there,” Koser said.
Masks are recommended, signs will encourage social distancing and hand sanitizer stations will be placed throughout the fairgrounds.
“We, of course, are advising everybody to social distance and wear a mask,” Koser said.
Free parking is available at the entrance on Route 333, between Milford Street and Lions Club Park Road. For a $10 fee, guests can park at the old elementary school on 8th Street. Half of that fee will be donated to the school. A free shuttle service will also be available.
As the 2018 Juniata County Fair Queen, Dressler is happy to tout the beauty and work ethic of her home area.
“Juniata County is a very big agricultural county. There are cows, fields and farms everywhere. One of the biggest things for us is to display that agriculture within our community,” Dressler said, adding that although she regrets the closure of the exhibit halls, she is glad the animal barns can remain open. “I encourage everyone to come check out the livestock.”
Another big draw in the county is racing, which takes place five nights. Saturday features the 53rd Annual Tuscarora 50 - All Star Circuit of Champions, which offers a $53,000 prize (in honor of its 53 years) to the winner.
Lyric Wallenda will perform aerial displays, and Simon Arestov, originally from Moscow and featured on NBA and NCAA halftime shows, will perform acrobatics and balancing. Doug Drews, of Mifflintown, will demonstrate farming methods with a pair of oxen in his Ox Dynasty performance.
In her days as the Juniata County Fair Queen, Dressler most enjoyed sharing agricultural tips with schoolchildren, whether planting seeds or examining leaves. This year’s Fair Queen Contest takes place at 2 p.m. Saturday on the Free Stage, with Olivia Laub and Karly Nailor, both of Port Royal, competing for the crown.
Both Dressler and Koser were quick to rave about a Juniata County Fair favorite, the Port Royal Lutheran Church’s food stand, which serves turkey, ham and roast beef dinners.
“Their turkey dinners are to die for,” Dressler said. “That’s something a lot of people look forward to.”
“Their turkey dinner. That has got to be the biggest hit at the fair,” Koser said. “It’s a full meal. There’s no way anybody walks away hungry. It’s the best.”
Cindy O. Herman lives in Snyder County. Email comments to her at CindyOHerman@gmail.com