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‘Wild Hog Weekend’ canceled in La Salle
Widely touted as the largest tourist attraction on La Salle County’s calendar, the annual Wild Hog Cook-Off and County Fair scheduled for the second weekend in March has been canceled by organizers this year over health and safety concerns during the coronavirus pandemic.
The La Salle County Fair Association made its announcement late Wednesday, February 10, following a board meeting at which members acknowledged that while they had formulated a safety plan for the five-day event, there had been no signal of approval from the county government.
County commissioners had been presented with the fair association’s safety plan for the festival at a meeting on Monday, Feb. 8, but made no comment on the presentation and cast no vote to allow the county fair to take place.
La Salle County’s current emergency plan, renewed monthly by commissioners since last April, puts a ban on all gathering, establishes a curfew and orders closure of bars, limits occupancy of all businesses, and requires government offices to open only by appointment. The county has granted no exceptions and has issued no special permits for organized events.
County commissioners were to have held a special meeting at 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 12, to discuss amendments to the emergency disaster declaration but canceled their meeting and made no announcement on rescheduling, according to the county clerk’s office last week.
Since its establishment in 1980, the county festival has grown to include the popular Wild Hog Cook-Off, a food show for adults and children, arts and science contests, live entertainment and evening dances, scores of food booths, a hall filled with vendors of handmade goods and trinkets, a pet parade, a ranch rodeo and wild hog races, a carnival, and collegiate Wild Hog Olympic games in the American Legion Arena. Visitor numbers have reached between 10,000 and 12,000 during Wild Hog Weekend in recent years, according to the fair association. Revenues generated by admissions and various contests have supported student scholarships and continual improvements to the county fairgrounds.
The La Salle County Junior Livestock Show & Auction, scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 11-13, is still set to take place but will be closed to the public. Youth participants will be issued passes for a limited number of guests, and prospective buyers will be issued with admissions wristbands in advance of the event. County Extension Agent Victoria Wilson and members of the FFA & 4H Booster Club have established a schedule of exhibition, interview and judging for the youths and their livestock projects that will include social distancing and a restriction on potential crowding.
At the fair association, however, a safety plan coordinated in cooperation with County Health Authority Dr. Gregory Roth and the La Salle County Fire Rescue & EMS could not be redrafted or amended at short notice, with only a month remaining before Wild Hog Weekend.
“We didn’t come to this decision lightly,” Fair Association Vice President Kevin Coleman said late last week. “We tried our best to work with the county on formulating a plan, and it was an extensive plan, but the county commissioners did not give us any indication of whether they would approve it.”
The fair association has also canceled plans for the annual Wild Hog Parade, which would have led through downtown Cotulla on Saturday morning, March 13.
“We started work on this in December,” Coleman said of the fair association’s safety plan for the cook-off weekend. “Our plan had several contingencies. We knew there were activities that were not going to be possible during the pandemic, all of them events that could have posed a risk of crowding.
“It was highly feasible that we could have come up with something to meet health and safety guidelines, so this is disheartening,” the association vice president said.
Fair association event organizers confirmed last week that they have canceled contracts with entertainers and food vendors as well as the carnival, whose own safety plan had been attached to the fair’s draft of guidelines.
Events that are still scheduled for the weekend and will take place largely behind closed doors include the annual La Salle County Fair Queen Contest and the science, art and essay contests, whose participants will submit their entries on a social-distancing schedule and await judging results. Public viewing of the art contest entries will not be possible, as it entails opening the fairgrounds and risking potentially unsafe crowding, according to one of the event organizers. Ambassadors for the fair, namely the queen and the Little Mister and Little Miss contest winners, will be named in advance of the weekend.
Concerns over the potential health hazards of contestants bringing items from home for display and sale at the popular fair food show prompted organizers to cancel that contest, the fair association reported.
The ranch rodeo, originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon, March 14, has also been canceled over concerns regarding crowds that traditionally circle the arena and fill its grandstands. Related activities and spectator events in the arena such as the Wild Pig Scramble and the Wild Hog Futurity have likewise been canceled.