First time since WWII the rodeo has not occurred | TheFencePost.com
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First time since WWII the rodeo has not occurred

Story and photos Lincoln Rogers
for The Fence Post
Fans pack the stands every year at the Elizabeth Stampede Rodeo, with about 10,000 people flowing through the small town of less than 1,500 residents over the first week of June. It is the largest event of the year in Ellbert County.
Photo by Lincoln Rogers

While people within their communities navigate the personal and financial effects from shutdowns and restrictions, the impact is also felt by communities at large through the canceling of long-standing and popular events. One such event is the award-winning Elizabeth Stampede Rodeo in Elizabeth, Colo.

The largest occasion of the year in Elbert County, 2020 will mark the first time since World War II that a rodeo in the town of Elizabeth will not be held.

“It is quite disappointing,” began Lea Anne Russell, marketing chairperson for the Elizabeth Stampede, on having to cancel the rodeo. “We understand and take a great deal of pride in the fact that this is a community event and there is nothing more exciting for us than to be able to produce a rodeo that the community and world class cowboys get to participate in and have that shared experience.”

Despite census figures indicating a current population of less than 1,500 people, the town of Elizabeth and the surrounding Elbert County area gears up to host more than 10,000 people who show up for the annual rodeo over the first weekend in June. The economic impact of the well-known rodeo is huge for the rural community, and its cancelation due to COVID-19 concerns and the resulting state and county dictates will be a financial hit on area businesses that will make life challenging for 2020 and possibly beyond.

“When the decision (to cancel) was made, I will tell you it was not made lightly,” said Russell. “There was a lot of discussion about postponing or cancelling. Our local restaurants, feed stores, gas stations; they count on us. Knowing this is the largest event in Elbert County, to have that go away has an impact. Even our (Saturday morning) parade fills the streets. We just didn’t have the crystal ball to give us the comfort level that we could do this event and be safe in doing it.”

“Early on, the county health officials summoned me, and I sat down with all of them and they told (me) unequivocally at that time what was going to be coming down in the coming months,” revealed Jace Glick, president of the Elizabeth Stampede board of directors, in an earlier interview with Colorado Community Media. “As a board we sat down and started discussing several different scenarios, and all agreed that public safety was our number one priority.”

PEOPLE IN THE STANDS

While there has been talk about other sports industries continuing without fans in the stands, the Elizabeth Stampede did not see that as a viable alternative.

“Not having people in the stands changes the dynamic,” said Russell. “We like our fans and we really want to see them in the stands. It also takes away from the economic piece of it,” she added. “How could we afford to pay for the rodeo and the award fees? Another consideration is we really count on our sponsors. We couldn’t in good conscience ask them to sponsor the rodeo with all the unanswered questions of whether it would even be allowed to occur.”

A silver lining in all the dark clouds of 2020 is the Elizabeth Stampede’s plan to return next year bigger and better than ever. Within the last month, the Elizabeth Parks and Recreation District purchased the land surrounding the stampede grounds, a move that has been in process for a long time. The move appears likely to free the Elizabeth Stampede organization, in close cooperation with the Elizabeth Parks and Recreation District, to make much needed improvements to their rodeo environment.

“One of the reasons we are not trying to reschedule the rodeo for later in 2020 is because we know these improvements are going to start taking place,” Russell explained. “By the time we do the next rodeo, we are planning on having actual shower and bathroom facilities and electricity (versus temporary structures and generators) and the things that will go into improving the rodeo experience. The joint strength of our relationship with Elizabeth Parks and Recreation District means we can help each other get grants for improvements… to better the facilities and strategically grow.”

With an attitude typical of rural Colorado and the western community as a whole, Stampede officials summed up the rodeo’s focus on the present and its direction for the future.

“We are very proud of the fact that we are still an accessible family oriented venue for entertainment,” Russell stated. “Our sellout and standing room only crowds on many of the performances that we put on is a testament to how important rodeo is to the western way of life and how people want to share that. When you see or feel that energy, it just makes all of the work that went on for the last year worthwhile. We are really excited about some of the changes we have coming up in the future to make that experience even more special.”

“While we are disappointed, our excitement hasn’t changed a bit,” said Glick. “We’re not defeated by this, and we’re looking forward to next year more than ever.” ❖

— Rogers is a freelance writer and photographer located east of Parker, Colo. He can be reached at lincoln@lincolnrogers.com or you can find him on Facebook at Official Lincoln Rogers Writing & Photography Page.


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