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State OKs Houlton Fair, denies Northern Maine Fair dates

AUGUSTA, Maine — While the Northern Maine Fair was successful in getting dates in late June and early July OK’d for this year, it appears that approval may be a one and done deal from the state.

On Friday, June 14, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry issued a ruling that denies the Northern Maine Fair’s request to have its festival around the Fourth of July in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

An adjudicatory hearing held May 30, at the Deering Building in Augusta was attended by both Lynwood Winslow, president of the Northern Maine Fair, and Paul Cleary, president of the Houlton Agricultural Fair.

The NMF requested July 3-11, 2020; July 2-10, 2021; and July 1-9, 2022 as the dates it desired for the next three years. Those dates, however, directly conflicted with the Houlton Agricultural Fair’s requested dates of July 2-5, 2020; July 1-4, 2021; and July 1-4, 2022.

In the report, signed by Commissioner Amanda Beal, the state claimed that if the two fairs were granted overlapping dates, the effect would be negative for both groups.

“People who would have participated in events at both fairs, such as open livestock shows and other exhibitions, would be unable to do so on those days that the fairs overlap,” the report states. “These participants would need to choose one fair over the other, resulting in less participation and events at both fairs.”

Beal said in her opinion, the operation on consecutive, or nearly consecutive, dates of the two fairs would be “unsustainable” given the small population base of Aroostook County and the fact that many of the people who live here have limited or fixed incomes.”

Houlton traditionally has held its fair over the Fourth of July holiday dating back to 1981. It became a fair in 1984 and was licensed as a state fair in 1986.

The NMF has been in existence for 165 years and traditionally held its fairs over a nine-day period in late July-early August. Those dates were not suitable in 2019 because the midway provider that the NMF has traditionally used was not available on those dates.

In the agriculture department ruling, the NMF was given dates that mirrored that group’s traditional festival dates of late July and early August. The NMF was awarded Aug. 1-9, 2020; July 31-Aug. 8, 2021; and July 30-Aug. 7, 2022.

Cleary said Wednesday that he was pleased with the state’s ruling.

“We are very happy that our traditional dates were again approved,” he said. “We agree with everything the Commissioner stated in her report.”

The two fairs have battled over dates since last October. At that time, the NMF requested a change in its 2019 fair dates to June 28 through July 3. This request was to allow the NMF to continue contracting with Smokey’s Greater Shows, a midway provider. Smokeys previously stated it was not available from July 26 to Aug. 3, 2019, because they were assisting Fiesta Shows with rides for the Bangor State Fair July 25-Aug. 3.

After first denying the request, an appeal was made, and after a second hearing in Augusta, the date change was approved, with the stipulation that the agricultural fair end on July 3 so as not to conflict with Houlton’s Fair to be held July 4-7.

In its request to change the dates, the NMF stated different dates were needed to accommodate its provider of midway rides — Smokey’s Greater Shows. Commissioner Beal, however, did not feel that reason was strong enough to grant the change.

“The NMF has requested specific dates to accommodate for the availability of Smokey’s Greater Shows, the NMF’s preferred midway provider,” she wrote. “While a midway may be (an) important component of its fair, the NMF has not explored the availability of midway providers on different dates, including those that encompass the NMF’s traditional agricultural fair dates.

“Moreover, the definition of an ‘agricultural fair’ is an exhibition that is designed to promote education and encourage improvement in agriculture. While a midway may provide a large draw for people to attend the fairs, it is not directly related to the educational component of a fair. The primary purpose and goal of agricultural fairs is to promote and teach attendees and participants about agriculture.”

This year, the NMF plans to hold a “Freedom Festival” on the dates of July 4-6, with midway rides, monster trucks and more. That event is not regulated by the state as it is not considered part of the agricultural fair.

Winslow declined to comment on the state’s decision, stating the board was focused only on this year.

“We’re focusing on this year’s fair before we worry about the future,” he said. “We [the fair association] will not have any discussions about the future until this year’s fair is over.”

Star-Herald reporter Melissa Lizotte contributed to this article.

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