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Del Mar again comes to aid of small northern fair

DEL MAR — Christmas came early once again for the Modoc District Fair when the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors agreed at the Dec. 17 meeting to give $25,000 to its significantly smaller counterpart in the northeast corner of the state.

Almost exactly a year earlier, when the 34th District Agricultural Association was in danger of having to permanently shut down, it requested and received $100,000 from the 22nd DAA, which governs the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Since then the 34th DAA tried to implement several new revenue-generating opportunities, such as guided wagon train and horseback tours, cattle drives, lodging stays and money-making possibilities from people attending Burning Man, an annual art and self-expression event that draws tens of thousands of people to the nearby Black Rock Desert of Nevada.

Dannette DePaul, 34th DAA chief executive officer, said the organization could potentially have earned about $83,500 from the events, but most were unsuccessful due to “unexpected obstacles.”

She said she had difficulty obtaining the required permits for the tours and organizing timelines with local ranchers for the cattle drives.

She said most Burning Man attendees had the necessary supplies going to the event and needed minimal items on the way back. DePaul said she spent about $450 to staff booths to sell food and water that resulted in only $245 in sales.

Modoc County has a population of about 9,700. Slightly more than 500 people live in Cedarville, which is home to the fair, a four-day event that has been ongoing since 1920.

During the offseason the facilities are rented to nonprofit organizations, businesses and locals for events such as fundraisers, weddings, family reunions, blood drives, school activities and youth sports.

During disasters the site serves as a crisis center for humans and animals and is a cooling center during extreme heat conditions. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management use the fairgrounds for training as well as fire camp during the fire season.

The fair began receiving state money through horse racing revenues in 1935, but that funding source was eliminated by Sacramento last July. Its current annual budget is about $355,000.

DePaul said expenses will be cut by about $100,000 in 2014 because she was “given an ultimatum by the state” to change district operations.

She said she was forced to reduce her position from three-quarters time to half time and her maintenance budget had to be cut by up to half.

“We do what we can to try to make it survive,” DePaul said. “Our fair will never be self-sustainable” given Modoc’s population.

Board members urged her not to be pessimistic.

“Don’t be short-sighted and say you will never be self-sufficient,” 22nd DAA board President Fred Schenk said. “Take your energies and find ways to achieve success. You have the determination, and you have the will.”

Schenk said DePaul should continue to find ways to attract business opportunities from Burning Man, adding that he hopes one day the 34th DAA will be self-sufficient and able to help other struggling fairs.

“I’m thrilled,” DePaul said after the vote to give Modoc the $25,000. “They have no idea how much this means to our community.”

She said the district expects to receive additional funding from the state and private donations.