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It’s over – Pig, rooster chases canceled
Organizers say safety and protester disruption concerns fueled the decision to cancel what would have been the 40th Ephrata Fair Pig Chase
By Patrick Burns
The Ephrata Fair has canceled its 2016 pig chase.
Fair officials cited concerns about the “disruption” at last year’s event and another planned protest this year which elevated safety worries.
“Sadly, after 39 years, the Board of Directors of the Ephrata Farmers Day Association, has decided to suspend the annual Pig and Rooster Chase at Tent City,” attorney Richard Young wrote in message sent to The Ephrata Review Tuesday.
“Many are aware of the disruption to last year’s Pig Chase which resulted in the arrest of one individual,” he continued. “Unfortunately, the disruption has continued throughout the past year, escalating to the point where the safety of participants and attendees to this long-standing tradition is a very real concern, leaving fair organizers with little choice other than to suspend the event.”
An ugly scene marred last year’s event when several angry spectators verbally scolded protester Kelly Lehman, who had jumped the fence to enter the chase area during the final 16-and-over event.
The Ephrata Farmers Day Association board initially voted to cancel the adult pig chase, which had drawn the most criticism from protest groups.
The decision to cancel this year’s event comes only days after protest groups launched efforts to target fair sponsors.
Social media posts and web sites such as http://boycottephratafair.com/, urged people to call the offices of fair sponsors to engage specific employees with imploring messages that those companies end financial support for the fair as long as the pig chase exists.
A group of about 15 people demonstrated Aug. 13 and posted online photos with protest signs in front of Ephrata National Bank, one of the fair’s main sponsors.
Lehman said last week that her group wouldn’t stop protesting until the pig chase was canceled.
“To have children doing (pig chase) is in and of itself inappropriate because what are we telling these children?” she said. “It is a violent event.”
Rumors have circulated that protests this year could extend beyond the pig chase event and even disrupt the fair parade and other programs.
Ephrata Police Chief William Harvey would say only that “The ultimate goal of any planned public event is public safety and the safety of all attendees.”
Calls to board members last week were forwarded to the board’s attorney but some speaking off the record conceded that canceling the event was a distinct possibility.
There’s no word yet on what might replace the extremely popular pig chase event which benefits young farmers.
Paul Zimmerman, fair volunteer and pig chase organizer, said it’s sad to see an event end where families of three generation have participated.
He said the event used 15 to 17 pigs — sized on a graduated scale for the various age groups — and the genesis of chasing and gathering pigs is a necessary skill farmers used and developed on the job.
“All good things come to an end I guess,” Zimmerman said. “There’s going to be a lot of disappointed kids.”
The cancellation also comes as Ephrata Borough Council was considering revamping the ordinance which allowed the pig chase to exist legally at Grater Park.
Susan Rowe, council president, had solicited public comment to gauge the support for the pig chase.
She said responses were equally divided for and against the event, as of Tuesday afternoon.
“I am planning to announce at the work session on Sept. 6 that I will be asking a committee to look into these types of events,” Rowe had said before word of the cancellation.
Posts on The Ephrata Review’s Facebook page about the protesters targeting of the fair’s sponsors drew many responses — some blaming the paper for giving voice to the agitators.
One of the initial posts had a reach of nearly 12,000 and prompted 64 comments. A preview of the story on the pig chase cancellation received 190 comments in only a few hours on The Ephrata Review’s Facebook page Wednesday morning.
Tina Thompson was one of many who called for a counter protest: “I think we should have a group of supporters there too! We have just as much right as you that oppose! Peace and respect also means we can have our say, peacefully!”
The other view on the divided discussion was shared by Suzanne Gonzalez.
“Kindness, empathy and compassion for all creatures are human virtues,” she wrote. “To the contrary, the Ephrata Fair animal chases (pig and rooster) are inhumane events that promote bullying and cruelty towards animals. Please do not support animal abuse of any kind. Say NO MORE to the Ephrata Fair Animal Chases.”
Rowe said council received and approved “at the recommendation of the Public Safety Committee, permission for the Farmers Day Association for relief of section 123-1 of the borough code to allow them the use of Grater Park for livestock judging and a petting zoo.”
Young clarified the safety concerns of Ephrata Farmers Day Association board.
“The mission of the Ephrata Fair is to educate attendees about the importance of agriculture while providing a safe and fun environment for the entire family,” Young wrote.
“In light of the anticipated disruption level, the Ephrata Farmer’s Day Association has decided, in the interest of public safety, to suspend the Pig and Rooster Chase,” he noted.
Young said the board realizes there will be “many disappointed by the decision.”
Rowe expressed similar safety concerns shared with the Ephrata Farmers Day Association board. She said some “people are planning to protest, and another group is planning to counter-protest.”
“I am concerned for the safety of the Ephrata Borough PD as they try to keep the crowds under control, as well as for the attendees, particularly young children that may be in the area, either to watch or participate in the event or just walking through the park to get to the petting zoo or see the farm equipment,” Rowe said.
Patrick Burns is social media editor and staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 721-4455