Article written by Robert Sanchez. To view on the Daily Herald website, click here.
Talk of prohibiting circuses and other traveling shows with animals at the DuPage County Fairgrounds has sparked a firestorm of controversy and confusion.
County board members last month heard from residents urging them to ban circuses at the county-owned property along Manchester Road in Wheaton. But a larger group of more than 30 attended Tuesday's meeting to oppose such a ban.
Steve Cesare of Naperville said circuses and animal shows can help educate children about wildlife. "Kids need to see these animals up close and in person," he said.
But there also was confusion because several people said they believe officials want to move the annual county fair so the fairgrounds property can be redeveloped.
That prompted board members to rebut the rumor.
Wheaton Republican Grant Eckhoff, whose district includes the fairgrounds, said DuPage is actually negotiating a five-year lease extension with the county fair association.
"I don't know where this 'we're going to sell the fairgrounds' stuff came from," Eckhoff said after the meeting. "We've been negotiating for more than a year."
The association is a nonprofit group that organizes the county fair and leases the fairgrounds. If approved in the coming year, the new lease would take effect when the existing deal expires in fall 2020.
It's "ridiculous" to think the county doesn't want the fair association using the fairgrounds, county board member Jim Healy said.
"We just sent them a draft of the lease last week," the Naperville Republican said.
County officials, however, have said they want the next lease to be more specific on what the association can and cannot do with the land.
One provision could be the banning of circuses with wild animals. Some also would like to see the ban extended to other traveling shows with animals.
County board member Brian Krajewski, chairman of DuPage's animal services committee, said he supports a ban because it's documented that animals have been abused at circuses through the years.
"We don't need to have entertainment off these animals," the Downers Grove Republican said.
But supporters of one show that mostly features reptiles say no animals are mistreated at the fairgrounds.
"I just want to reassure you that we do not abuse animals," said Gail Watson, a co-owner of Scott Smith's All Animal Expo. "We don't allow abuse of animals. Our animals are all taken care of by very good people who know their stuff," including a veterinarian.
Carol Hendrix of Lisle said events like the expo help create connections to animals. "People will not save animals if they don't have a personal connection to them," she said.