McKenna Unobskey of Bangor gets a nudge from a Katahdin sheep at the Bangor State Fair in 2016. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Notably absent from this year’s Bangor State Fair will be the agriculture barns and livestock exhibits that the public has come to expect from the 173-year-old event.

But that absence is only temporary.

Fair organizers are meeting with members of the agricultural community to discuss how best to return livestock exhibits and events — including 4-H shows — to the annual fair, according to Bangor State Fair General Manager Chris McGrail.

This is the first indication the event intends to retain its status as a state fair since its designation as an agricultural event was in limbo following the demolition of the barns used to house livestock and exhibits earlier this year.

For this year, the demolition of the agricultural barns on the fairgrounds and ongoing recovery from the pandemic left organizers with no options for animals in addition to offering a shortened fair schedule, McGrail said.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the fair entirely in 2020. The fair returned in 2021 with a three-day condensed schedule of rides and entertainment. This year the fair runs four days, August 4-7, at Bass Park.

“The shortened schedule is the direction that is in the best interest moving forward to rebuild the fair back to what it was,” McGrail said. “While working with folks that have things going on during the fair like Fiesta Shows and the ride company, it seemed like a wise decision to continue this method until we determine how to grow it from its current schedule.”

Part of that growth includes ongoing internal discussions and meetings with representatives of the agriculture community on how to return the livestock and other agriculture exhibits after the barns that stood on city-owned Bass Park were torn down earlier this summer.

At the time, Bangor city officials said the demolitions were necessary due to the structures’ deteriorating conditions.

McGrail could not comment on the timeline of any barn construction, but said livestock will definitely be a part of future Bangor State Fairs.

Public outcry has been critical of the move to not include livestock this year. The general manager said the absence of the animals and related exhibits was never intended to be permanent and agreed they are an important component of the annual event.

 “We are working our best to formulate that plan now,” he said. “It all depends on how conversations go over the next couple of months with agricultural folks, working to determine how best to bring that piece of the fair back.”

Like all fairs in the state, the Bangor State Fair is licensed by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. It is currently in the final year of its three-year license and lack of agricultural exhibits could impact its status as a state fair.

McGrail said the intention is to keep that state fair status, something he recognizes as important to the area’s agricultural community.

“We are doing our best to put together a product we see value in and it’s unfortunate the barns had to come down due to how unsafe they were,” he said. “As we plan the fair’s future we need structures in place and a plan to properly and safely bring that [agricultural] component of the Bangor State Fair back.”

The Bangor State Fair, first held in 1849, is one of the country’s oldest state fairs.

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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.