The 2019 Washington County Fair will go on.
Despite flooding from the Elkhorn River last month, the Washington County Fair Board plans to move forward with the 101st fair, which kicks off July 26. Rumors had circulated that the fair was cancelled.
“The fair will go on absolutely and for sure,” Fair Board President Jason Cloudt said. “We have every intention of the fair being as good as it would have been if there were no water.”
The fairgrounds filled with water during the catastrophic flooding that hit much of eastern Nebraska in early March. While a total estimate of damages to the fairgrounds is not yet known, every building was filled with floodwater, with the exception of the Two Rivers Bank Arena, which sits high enough to remain dry.
Cloudt said Fair Board members met at the fairgrounds March 15 during the flooding.
“We went 'Oh my gosh, there's a lot of water here,'” he said.
But, he said, it never crossed board members' minds that there wouldn't be a fair in 2019.
“We all are very steadfast and we will work diligently,” he said. “I don't think there was a moment, even seeing the water, that we doubted that we would have the fair, we would have the great coming together of the community that the fair brings every year. We will have that and I don't think we ever paused to say that wouldn't happen.”
Since then, the waters have receded. What didn't recede was pumped out of the fairgrounds.
“All of the water is out of the buildings and most of it is off of the grounds,” Cloudt said.
Fair Board members and volunteers immediately started the process of restoring the buildings, including the Rybin Building, which was newly remodeled in 2017. Appliances and cabinets had to be removed from the kitchen in the Rybin Building.
Dry wall was also removed from the office building and the 4-H building.
“With the help of dehumidifiers and fans and all of the work of the fair board, the associate fair board members and many members of the community who have come down and helped us, we have been able to salvage some of what was inside the buildings,” Cloudt said. “Now, we're beginning the process of starting to put back together the buildings.”
Cloudt expects the Rybin Building will be fully functional for weddings and other events before the end of April. The rental calendar on the Washington County Fair's website showed the Rybin Building reserved most Saturdays through August.
“It hurts me personally, but it hurts that we don't have that building available right now, but, again, we're fortunate that we're going to get it put back together for most of the summer's events and long before the fair,” Cloudt said.
Events will return to the Two Rivers Bank Arena on April 6, with the Washington County Cattlemen's banquet.
The Fair Board planning a combined clean-up day with the Village of Arlington. The plan is to meet at 8 a.m. April 6 at the Rybin Building. Volunteers should wear rubber boots and bring a rain coat. Other items needed are paint brushes, wire brushes, scrub brushes, brooms, shovels, squeegees, garden hoses, portable power washers and power tools.
Washington County 4-H members and their families will use their annual Lend-A-Hand Service Day on April 13 at the fairgrounds. The day will begin at 9 a.m.
“It's going to take a lot of work so we will welcome volunteers and we may have other work days that we'll post after the initial push over the next few weeks here,” Cloudt said.
Cloudt said there has been plenty of interest from volunteers who want to help restore the fairgrounds.
“The devastation that we see will require a lot of labor and hard work to put back together, but it is wonderful to see the community come together to help us make sure the fairgrounds are ready and we have a wonderful fair again this year,” he said.