While rodeos throughout the western United States are calling this year a wash, Cattlemen’s Days organizers are fighting to hold the annual summer event. They met with Gunnison County Commissioners Tuesday.
Cattlemen’s Days is the longest consecutive Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) event since 1900, and Gunnison County leaders and organizers say they have no intention of breaking that trend.
“This is a very iconic event for Gunnison County,” said County Commissioner Jonathan Houck.
During their Tuesday meeting, members of the Cattlemen's Days board presented alternative ideas to continue the festivities while adhering to the county and state COVID-19 restrictions — primarily revolving around the issue of capacity for the popular event. While no official actions were taken, a variety of options were discussed to get the ball rolling on some elements.
For Cattlemen’s board President Kevin Coblentz, the first step is determining how to handle the PRCA sponsored rodeos — which are currently scheduled to take place on the evenings of July 9-11 — and then the “pieces will fall together one at a time.”
Coblentz’s current ideas revolve around holding “fanless” rodeos and broadcasting the event so the community can still take part in the “culture” of Cattlemen’s Days from home. Board members are still in the “planning stage,” of how to make revenue from this form of the event, board Vice President Michael Dawson said.
Coblentz added that proper safety measures such as sanitization and wearing masks would take place in between each of the events.
The PRCA has also issued their own guidelines for rodeos to follow, mandating precautions for personnel from specialty acts to steer wrestlers to judges to take.
There could, however, still be a chance for limited crowds at the event, if permitted by Public Health Order gathering requirements. Cattlemen’s board members discussed keeping attendees in “pods” in the arena, while continuing to practice the social distancing measures that will be in place.
Commissioner John Messner commented that, while Gov. Jared Polis’ current timeline is to reach groups of 250 by July, Gunnison County would be “lucky to get to 50 at that point.”
Coblentz added that there is the possibility for the rodeos to be rescheduled to the end of July or early August. The Cattlemen’s board may also pursue an exemption through the county and state to proceed with more guidelines.
While no concrete plans for Cattlemen’s Days have been laid out, Coblentz said he is dedicated to finding a way for the historical event to take place. In researching how other smaller-scale rodeos have been operating during the unknowns of COVID-19, Coblentz told the commissioners that he has found most organizers have either pulled the plug on their plans or do not know what to do. This offers Gunnison County the opportunity to host Cattlemen’s as a “blueprint” for other rodeos, Coblentz said.
“I really feel that the Board of County Commissioners and the board of (Cattlemen’s) directors need to be leaders rather than followers, and then set the example for rodeos behind us,” he said.
More than a rodeo
While the PRCA rodeos are the staple events for Cattlemen's Days, the 10 day event hosts a handful of other programming, including presentations from the local 4-H community.
“Cattlemen’s and 4-H have always gone together,” Eric McPhail, Colorado State University extension agent said.
The program’s members typically present their general projects — such as baking or shooting — during this time, projects which they work year round to present. McPhail explained events such as these, are “flexible” enough to be done virtually or even postponed, depending on how other plans come together.
McPhail is reluctant to change the dates of the various market animal shows, as the livestock are ready for the “processors” according to a certain timeframe. He added that if needed, the dates could be adjusted one or two weeks at the most.
The state of the Fred R. Field Western Heritage Center — where the 4-H shows are held — is another large unknown for the event. The facility is currently being used as a backup hospital in case a surge of COVID-19 cases takes place. Speaking to more of his program’s flexibility, McPhail added that he could do the shows on the field outside the building.
County Manager Matthew Birnie commented that he does not expect the Fred Field building to be available come July.
“We just won’t know until we see what happens,” he said of the upcoming summer.
(Roberta Marquette can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)