MOUNT CARMEL — A staple of the community, Ag Days, which brings tourists from all over to Mount Carmel for the trademarked celebration, has officially been canceled — at least in the traditional sense of the event.
The decision for a change of plans for the four-day festival comes as Illinois slowly progresses through Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan. It would have been increasingly difficult to hold an event of that scale with current restrictions, but the Wabash County Chamber of Commerce and Ag Days Planning Committee also reported that the Illinois Department of Labor is not inspecting rides at this time, negating any potential for such attractions.
What started out as a day with a steak dinner promoting agriculture in Wabash County, has become an incredible gathering in Mount Carmel for both kids and adults alike. Many return to Mount Carmel to celebrate the festivity even as adults, while kids are attracted to the rides and games associated with the festival.
Though many will surely be disappointed by the decision and swaying of tradition, the Chamber still plans to host several events in the place of Ag Days.
“We do have a good plan,” Chamber Executive Director Lesley Hipsher spoke of the new plan for Ag Days. “We’re going to be doing Ag Days food and entertainment with several different events at Merchant’s Park uptown this summer.”
Instead of the four-day event that was to be hosted from July 29 through Aug. 1, they’ll be hosting events on Market Street — namely around Merchant’s Park — starting with the first one on June 26.
For each of the events, Hipsher says they plan to have live music, multiple food trucks, the Ag Days lemon shake ups, as well as potentially even the Ag Days taffy that the carnival has become synonymous for. The band, “Providence” will be performing at the first event. The three other events will be on July 10, July 24 and July 29 (the grand finale per Hipsher).
“At that event we’re still coming up with our finalized list of items, but we do have a band that will be playing, we have a variety of food trucks and vendors vending food uptown. We’ll also have the famous Ag Days lemon shake ups uptown,” Hipsher said. “I put a couple calls in, it looks like — I don’t know if we can for the first event — but it looks like we will be able to get some of the famous carnival Ag Days taffy on hand so people can buy a box of them too. I’m coordinating with the taffy people to make that work. I think people really looking forward to [the taffies] and we should have that hopefully, eventually. I think we’ll definitely get it, we just don’t know when yet.”
Similar to the dedication event at Merchant’s Park a couple weeks ago, the street would be lined with food trucks and vendors across the street. To promote social distancing protocols, Hipsher says they’ll be marking where each customers should be standing for a vendor to adhere to the health department’s guidelines.
Furthermore, all volunteers will be wearing personal protective equipment if they’re within close proximity to one another. To limit any exposure of COVID-19, those who are feeling “under the weather” or are displaying symptoms should remain home.
“If you’re feeling uneasy about it — because we have had some new cases in our area — we recommend you stay in your vehicle and listening. Roll down your windows and have a safe distance,” Hipsher said. “The music can be heard all around the area, you don’t have to be in the front row to hear it. Then if not, we ask if you bring lawn chairs, please sit with your immediate family, not to congregate and be in large groups, just be in your smaller groups when enjoying the music and such. There might be people who come up, get in line for food and listen while they’re here and hop in their car and take it home to eat — that’s perfectly fine. All options are good options for people. They need to do what they feel comfortable doing.”
If you’re left feeling uneasy, Hipsher added that Wabash General Hospital will be sponsoring a hand washing station for each event — for community use.
While hosting the traditional carnival would have been ideal, Hipsher says everyone’s been overwhelmingly receptive to the Chamber’s new plan — likening their detailed outline explaining why and distribution of smaller events to make up for its absence. Still, like everyone else, she’s disappointed in a break in tradition.
“It’s the ending of summer, you see everyone you know, people you only see once a year at Ag Days,” Hipsher said. “People sometimes plan their trips to come visit family during Ag Days. We actually have some folks who went with their grandparents when they were little. They come back every year and invite other groups of couples to meet them in Mount Carmel and stay all week for Ag Days. The impact on those people who don’t get to continue that tradition this year is pretty sad. We can’t control the pandemic for sure, everyone knows that.”
As far as the financial impact of an Ag Days rescheduling, it appears the Chamber is set to experience the brute of it.
Hipsher estimated the Chamber could experience approximately a 75% decrease in annual revenue as a result of the shift, as Ag Days is their top fundraiser of the year.
“Without having rides and the shake up booth sales being down, we’re hopeful, but preparing for that,” Hipsher stated. “Maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised. Our shake ups are pretty well known, so maybe people are going to come out and support this.”
A fundraiser they plan to host at the events to assist in making up that loss is a 50/50 drawing. Tickets for the drawing can be purchased next to the shake up booth at each event. To offer some semblance to the festival, Hipsher said they’re planning to continue with the Little Miss Ag Days Pageant.
Thus far there’s been overwhelming feedback in favor of a continuation of the tradition, but cited a need for parents of potential contestants to express interest.
If you’re interested in signing up your little one for the Little Miss Ag Days competition, they must be entering kindergarten or first grade this year in Wabash County. Inquiries should be directed toward the Chamber’s offices at 618-262-5116. The event would be hosted in the evening on July 29.
“We appreciate everyone’s support,” Hipsher said. “We think this is a good alternative, we’re trying to make the best of kind of a bad situation. Moving forward I think that these events are going to be really enjoyable for the community.”
The food vending begins at 5 p.m. Friday and the band will begin performing at 7 p.m. The event will end at 10 p.m.