Altamont Fair canceled, another casualty of COVID-19

— Photo from Russell Pokorny

The weather took its toll on the 2018 Altamont Fair, causing attendance to drop by a third. This year, COVID-19 caused the fair’s full closure — for just the second time in over 125 years. 

ALTAMONT — Organizers of this year’s Altamont Fair had been hopeful the week-long event would take place this August but, given the realities of what that would actually entail, it just wasn’t practical.

Holly Van Wie, a senior at Bethlehem, wasn’t surprised by the fair’s cancellation, but said she had been upset by it because this is her last year competing. In the fall, she’ll be heading to the State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill. 

“My initial reaction was: What do I do now?” she said, because she has been training her animals since January on her family’s farm in New Scotland. 

“It just hurts a lot,” Van Wie said. “I have many, many friends [and] we only see each other at the fair, because they live so far away or because they don’t have the time to hang out because they’re also farmers.”

This would have been Van Wie’s 14th Altamont Fair, she said. She has won grand champion with her dairy cows twice and best of show “many times.”

Last year, she won Master Showman for dairy cattle, and then went on to compete against the other Master Showman who won for goat, sheep, beef cattle, chicken, and rabbit — and won that overall competition.

While the heady sense of competition with throngs of spectators can’t be duplicated, Pat Canaday said that the fair is working with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany County to put together a 4-H program for late August, which would be a one-day event, rather than the six days of the fair.

On June 10, fair organizers announced that, “due to the evolving COVID-19 situation and its impact on our community’s health and well-being,” the Altamont Fair would be canceled. 

This is just the second cancelation in the fair’s 125-year history. The first was in 1943, in the midst of World War II. In 1918, local authorities prevented youth under 16 from attending the fair due to the polio epidemic.

“It was going to be a huge undertaking to execute well under the best of circumstances,” Pat Canaday, the fair’s treasurer, said. “And these certainly are not the best circumstances.”

In the past couple of years, the fair — which serves Albany, Schenectady, and Greene counties — has drawn between 50,000 and 60,000 people to the village.

The decision not to hold this year’s fair was one of resources and requirements. 

It became clear that putting together all of the resources needed to keep both fair staff and the public protected would have been very difficult, Canaday said, and that’s without knowing the state’s Phase 4 requirements.

There would have been an issue with staffing, Canaday said, because so many senior citizens work during fair week that there was a question if they would be comfortable doing so. 

And enforcing government-required measures like social distancing would have been extremely difficult during events like the demolition derby, Canaday said, one of the fair’s most popular and densely-packed attractions.

Next month, Canaday said, organizers will try to bring a little bit of the fair to the village. 

Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in July, she said, there will be a fair-food truck event where people can drive through the fairgrounds and purchase deep-fried Oreos, fried dough, and other kinds of fair food.

In the absence of a fair this year, Canaday said, organizers will put on more drive-through events; in October, for example, the fair will be putting on a Hallowed Harvest event.

The fair has also begun to grow vegetables for donation. 

“We have set up raised bed gardens by the Farm Machinery Building,” Canaday told The Enterprise by email; the vegetables will be donated to the Altamont and Hilltown food banks. The first harvest of lettuce took place on Tuesday.


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