RIDGWAY – Members of the Ouray County Rodeo Association say they’re lucky the Colorado Professional Rodeo Association sanctioned this year’s Labor Day rodeo, because the Ouray County Fairgrounds’ rodeo infrastructure is crumbling.
“The renovation that we are hoping to accomplish is not just the grandstands,” said Erin Stadelman, OCRA vice president and treasurer, of the repairs to the grandstands in the works already in the works.
But, she went on to point out, “As you sit in the grandstands and look out, it’s fairly obvious that the entire rodeo grounds is antiquated.”
Indeed, the cattle chutes, holding pens, guard rails and other elements that make up the rodeo grounds require immediate replacement, Stadelman said. And while the peeling paint, rusty gates and panels, rotting fence posts and horse-chewed cross beams may give the rodeo grounds a certain old-timey charm, they also point to the fact that the grounds have deteriorated to the point of becoming obsolete – and even dangerous.
“We are actually quite lucky that the CPRA even allows us to put on a [sanctioned] event,” Stadelman said, of this year’s Ouray County Labor Day Rodeo’s near miss.
On the morning of Sunday, Sept. 1, CPRA inspectors and stock contractors arrived at the rodeo grounds to conduct a routine pre-event inspection. Conditions were so substandard, the found, that “as of 9:30, we didn’t have a rodeo,” Stadelman said. “The rodeo was canceled. We failed inspection.”
Among the inspectors’ concerns: the spring-loaded chute that releases calves for the roping events did not operate properly. “It is literally held together with wire and WD-40,” Stadelman explained.
A faulty locking mechanism in one of the bucking chute doors also failed inspection. A slide bar that goes into a hole in a post had deteriorated to the point where there were only two inches of locking mechanism left – inadequate to safely contain a spirited horse or bull leaning up against it.
“I understood why they pegged us for it,” Stadelman said. “But I just kind of looked at them and went, ‘Really? My gates open in two-and-a-half hours.’”
A little bailing twine and some last-minute welding allowed the rodeo to proceed as planned. However, Stadelman emphasized, they might not be so lucky next time around. Her organization has been officially put on notice that it is time to upgrade the grounds.
Current users’ groups that hold regular events at the rodeo grounds include OCRA, the 4-H roping club and gymkhana and the new Ouray County Mud Festival.
By upgrading the grounds, many more user groups would be attracted to the facility, Stadelman said – including organizations like the National Little Britches Rodeo Association, the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association and the Colorado Barrel Horse Association – which don’t come now, because the grounds are so outdated.
Whenever Stadelman approaches such organizations about coming to Ouray County, she said, it’s the same response: “You really need to work on your grounds.”
OCRA’s liability carrier, at its most recent grounds’ inspection, came to the same conclusion. “They did write us our liability insurance this year,” Stadelman said, “but they too made a statement: ‘When are you guys going to be doing some improvements?’”
To that end, OCRA has developed a plan to wipe the grounds clean and rebuild them, to the tune of about $140,000 above and beyond the projected $600,000-plus to rebuild the grandstands. OCRA has committed to raising the extra funds through independent fundraising efforts. The first item of business will be to tear down the old arena setup and install a new one.
Preifert Manufacturing, a company that makes animal handling equipment, metal panels, headgates, squeeze and roping chutes, has offered OCRA a “smokin’ deal” on a $90,000 setup for a prefabricated, “snap-together” combination roping and rough-stock arena that it will sell for $78,000, Stadelman said.
“It has all-new bucking chutes, new roping apparatus, pens, everything,” she said. “It would arrive in three flatbeds, and would fit together, just like a puzzle. Labor costs would be very minimal.”
The investment to rebuild could pay dividends, Stadelman said, as more user groups ranging from rodeo and equestrian events to motorized gymkhanas and outdoor concert promoters would be attracted to the grounds, pouring money into the surrounding community and paying user fees to help maintain the facility.
OCRA has begun reaching out to the ranching community for donations to kickstart the effort to rebuild. It has also modified its tax status so it can receive large donations, and created a separate fund dedicated just to the rodeo grounds, apart from the fund already created to rebuild the grandstands.
The plan has not been well-received by some community members who prefer that the rodeo grounds remain in their current state. Stadelman is sensitive to such concerns.
“We want to keep certain cornerstones of the quaintness” in the rebuild, she said. For example, the old roping chute and bucking chute gates could be incorporated as iconic pieces in the parking area.
“We are not trying to ignore the history,” Stadelman stressed. “It’s neat to have this rustic rodeo grounds, but if you have beautiful new grandstands overlooking something that nobody wants to use, what’s the point?”
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