For decades livestock and 4H exhibits have been part of the Bangor State Fair. This year organizers announced the barns housing those exhibits are to be torn down and there will be no livestock at the fair this year. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN

When the Bangor State Fair returns this summer there will be some notable absences.

Namely, the barns that normally house the livestock and 4H animal exhibits will be gone.

The land on which the fair takes place includes city-owned Bass Park. The barns and other buildings associated with the fair’s livestock exhibits are being torn down due to their age and condition, according to Tracy Willette, director of Bangor Parks and Recreation. The buildings were still standing as of Thursday.

“The city’s engineering department had an independent assessor come in to look at the condition of the barns,” Willette said. “They had fallen into some disrepair and the assessment came back that it would be a significant investment to make them safe and the ultimate decision was made to demolish the existing buildings.”

The Bangor State Fair, first held in 1849, is one of the country’s oldest state fairs. It’s unclear what removing the barns and other buildings mean for the 4H exhibits and other agriculture shows typically held there each year, or what effect losing those events would have on the event’s future status as a state fair.

Leaders of 4H animal programs in Penobscot County learned about a month ago that the fair was scrapping the livestock shows and exhibits, according to Sheila Norman, University of Maine Cooperative Extension 4H professional in Penobscot and Piscataquis counties.

“I was told in a conversation on the phone,” Norman said. “It means we will need to find new ways for the kids to show their learning and what they are doing in their projects.”

Norman said she was told of the decision by Anthony Vail, general manager of Cross Insurance Center, which hosts the annual fair.

Vail did not return requests for comment.

For now, the event remains a fair as it is in the final year of a three-year fair license, according to Jim Britt, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

The city is considering allowing the 4H participants to put up temporary structures for the duration of the fair, according to Willette.

“That could still happen,” Willette said.

A local 4H club leader said they have been told to get anything they own out of the barns. They have also been told to remove a club-owned building from the site.

It’s a blow after two years of pandemic-curtailed 4H activities, according to Corinna Caron, leader for the Penobscot County 4H Livestock Club.

Normally 4H participants show and sell their livestock at state fairs. When COVID-19 halted those activities in 2020 and 2021, Caron hosted events on her family’s Casa Cattle Co. farm in Corinna.

Caron said she and the other 4H participants were looking forward to things getting back to normal this year with the excitement and exposure that comes with showing at a state fair.

“The state fair is our Penobscot County showcase for the kids’ market animals like cattle, dairy, sheep, goats and horses,” Caron said. “Our farm has hosted an option for our kids to sell their animals and we invited buyers and all the players to hold the show and sale in our barn.”

Caron said the move also shows a disconnect between city officials and the state’s agricultural traditions.

“All of these 4H kids have a real passion,” Caron said. “Every kid who takes part can educate people on where food comes from and a few of those kids will take this passion and carry it on to raising that food.”

Families participating in the 4H programs learned of the cancellation of livestock exhibits well after they had purchased their animals for the year. Most get the animals in late summer or early fall and are now raising them.

Norman said the decision affects about 40 4H participants.

According to its website, the Bangor State Fair is “an agricultural and recreational gathering” and is licensed as an agricultural fair by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. No specific information about the 2022 fair is included on the website.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.