A nine-day fair could be part of a solution to combining the Cayuga County Fair and the Remember the Big 6 Picnic and 4-H Youth County Fair in 2018.

Members of the Cayuga County Agricultural Society and the Big 6 met last month at the county parks commission meeting to hash out details for the potential combined fair. Gary Duckett, superintendent of parks and trails and buildings and grounds, said there's still bones of contention including the date of the fair and management of funds.

Doug Ververs, executive director of the county's Cornell Cooperative Extension, said he hopes both groups can come to an agreement on an event name and date, among other things. He said the more consistent the fair can become, the more residents will be likely to adopt it as their own fair. 

"That's even the healthier part, if people came to think about it as 'our fair,'" he said. "It's a county fair for the benefit of the county youth and for the county citizens."

The date issue appears to be the biggest hurdle for both groups, however. For years the Big 6 has held its fair the last weekend in July. That is the same weekend agricultural society members participate in the Empire State Goat Show. Both groups are concerned that changing the dates of their respective fairs will cause conflicts with families, who often plan vacations around specific fairs and shows. Both groups especially do not want to conflict with nearby fairs in Seneca and Cortland counties.

"It makes it difficult to come up with a date," said Robin Bartholomew, treasurer and secretary of the agricultural society. "We just have to kind of compromise, or it won't happen, I guess."

Duckett said the parks commission suggested a 9-day event, with the Big 6 participants being the main attraction on the first weekend and the county fair participants taking on the second weekend. That potential solution will likely be discussed at the upcoming parks commission meeting on May 24. 

Duckett said the other issue is how the checkbook is managed. Ververs said from the discussions he's been a part of, the agricultural society wants to stay in charge of its own funds. Ververs said the cooperative extension has agreed with Big 6 volunteers, the Ward W. O'Hara Agricultural & Country Living Museum and Cayuga County officials that the extension will be responsible for financials around their own fair including revenue collection, taxes and audits. 

But another variable in the financial equation, Ververs said, is an approximately $96,000 grant from the state Agricultural Fairgrounds Infrastructure Improvement Program. With the ag society holding the Cayuga County Fair at Emerson Park this year, and likely in the years to come, those funds will have to be used with the input of the county and the Emerson Park Master Plan. Those funds can only move through the agricultural society, however, and that's also partially why the two fairs want to merge. 

"If we do go forward as a group, as a combined group, we would want them (Big 6 representatives) to have some input into what could be used there as part of the infrastructure building, get it settled, and then we can both plan for whether we're combined or not," Batholomew said. "Then we can move forward."

Although nothing specifically has been decided with how to use the funding, Bartholomew said initial discussions have centered around a multi-use building. It could be something the fair would utilize, but something the county could use outside of the fair, too. 

Despite the challenges of combining, both Ververs and Bartholomew are most concerned about keeping their fairs' respective opportunities for children — to let them show off their skills and participate in their programs.

"There's a lot to it," Batholomew said. "There's a lot of fine points to be considered, but we're going to keep trying."

The parks commission will meet 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 24, at the Emerson Park Maintenance Office, 6914 East Lake Road, Auburn.

Staff writer Gwendolyn Craig can be reached at (315) 282-2237 or gwendolyn.craig@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @gwendolynnn1.

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