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County government set to review safety measures before deciding to hold festival
The La Salle County Fair Association is awaiting a county government decision on coronavirus-related restrictions that may play a significant part in how this year’s Wild Hog Cook-Off will play out, or whether it will be held at all.
Traditionally held on the second weekend in March, the county fair, cook-off, junior livestock show and ranch rodeo occupy up to five days and are held at the county fairgrounds on Hwy 97. Over the past 40 years, rain or shine, the event has become the single largest tourist attraction on the county’s calendar and is considered by the city and county governments as a significant boost to the local economy. Hotel rooms are booked a year in advance, and local restaurants, retail stores and fuel stations schedule additional staff to handle the increased business during the festival weekend.
Speaking this week on behalf of the fair association, local businessman Tye Snowden is the executive committee chairman for entertainment and confirmed on Monday that if the festival is held, it will not include the popular evening dances and live performances.
“If there will be any live entertainment at all, it will be a performance on a stage in the American Legion Arena, with no crowd gathering,” Snowden said. “We are mindful of the risk that the pandemic poses, and if we are granted permission to hold the events on that weekend, we will not be able to organize anything that may generate a densely packed crowd.”
Among the organizers of the annual La Salle County Junior Livestock Show is Dennis Ramirez, who also serves on the Cotulla ISD Board of Trustees and said on Tuesday this week that a livestock show will be held, although “many changes will be in effect.”
Among those proposed changes, according to Ramirez, will be a severe restriction on the number of persons admitted to the Alexander Memorial Show Barn for the junior livestock event, which includes judging on the Friday and auction the following day.
“What we are planning is to issue each participant with only two admission passes to the barn,” Ramirez said. “No other persons will be allowed in. We will be using local law enforcement to help maintain that security.”
Ramirez acknowledged that event organizers expect to work closely with city and county governments and with the school district to ensure safety protocols are drawn up in a uniform manner and that all governing entities are aware of the precautionary measures.
Crowd attractions at the county fairgrounds will be affected by health and safety protocols, Snowden said, and organizers are examining options for managing the movement and gathering of visitors.
A highlight of the county fair for all ages is the annual carnival, which includes game booths and mechanized rides. The attraction is open each day of the festival, with visitors remaining until after dark most evenings.
“We have been in touch with the carnival company, and the owner has presented us with his safety plan,” Snowden said. “He is very meticulous about it, with disinfecting measures and distancing. We were impressed with it, and we are including it in our presentation to the county’s emergency management.”
Any application to host a public event will pass through the hands of County Health Authority Dr. Gregory Roth and La Salle Fire Rescue & EMS Chief Daniel Mendez before it reaches county commissioners for a vote.
Snowden said the fair association has received several calls from cook-off participants who return each year to take part in the contest itself and to prepare foods at allotted campsites on the county fairgrounds.
“There is a strong possibility that there will not be a judged food contest this year,” he said. “There are many people who come to cook anyway, without entering the cook-off as contestants, and they are asking us each week whether we will have an event and whether they will be able to have their cooking spots.
“The whole fair is up in the air right now,” he said. “We are trying to organize an event that we aren’t sure yet can happen, because of health and safety concerns in the coronavirus pandemic, but we are reassuring all participants that if they choose not to come this year, or if their favorite cooking area is not available, they won’t lose their spot for next year.”
The fair association has made contingency plans for hosting a festival during the pandemic, including the spacing of cook-off areas, elimination of any group events, and imposing firm guidelines on how entries in other contests may be submitted.
“Right now, we are in a holding pattern,” Snowden said. “We know that a lot of people want to take part and attend the events, but we have to be mindful of the greater issue, which is the public’s health and safety. We are waiting for the word from the county.”