Chamber trying to get downtown Steamboat cattle drive back on track | SteamboatToday.com

Chamber trying to get downtown Steamboat cattle drive back on track

Traffic in downtown Steamboat Springs was ground to a halt July 6

How to help

The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association seeks donations from businesses and individuals interested in becoming supporters of the July 1 cattle drive. To help keep the tradition alive, contact Sarah Leonard at 970-875-7006 or

— Steamboat Springs' broad main street was literally built to host cattle drives, but the logistics of trailing 200 head of cattle down Lincoln Avenue are becoming more complicated and expensive, even if it's just once per year.

Organizers of the popular downtown cattle drive during the Fourth of July holiday say they need an additional $3,000 to make insurance premiums in order to revive the event this year. The cattle drive — last done in 2009 — traditionally has been held in conjunction with the Cowboys' Roundup Days rodeo.

"We think it's important to the community," organizer Dean Vogelaar said. "When we do the Ranch Rodeo and the cattle drive it adds to the Cowboys' Roundup Days, and it's a way for the town to depict its Western heritage."

That heritage includes planning a wide main street that can easily accommodate a large herd of bawling beeves on their way to the railhead at the west end of town that opened up the Yampa Valley to the efficient shipping of cattle in 1908.

Beginning in the late 19th century, large herds of cattle were trailed by cowboys to the Yampa Valley from other states — New Mexico for example — and pastured on the area's lush summer grasses. Early on they were driven to Denver for shipment. But after the railroad arrived in Steamboat, they were trailed to the depot on 13th Street.

It's been widely reported that by 1913 there were more cattle shipped out of the train station here than anywhere else in the United States.

The cattle drives ceased in the 1970s because of changes in the way beef was taken to market.

Renewing the tradition, even temporarily, will take more money.

Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association spokeswoman Michelle Krasilinec said the $3,000 to insure the cattle drive is over and above a $1,000 premium for the Fourth of July parade. The Chamber, which sponsors the cattle drive, is looking for donations from individuals and businesses to meet the premiums.

If the money can be raised, the cattle drive will be held at 10:30 a.m. July 1, a Sunday.

Vogelaar said that because it was uncertain if a cattle herd could be rounded up for a drive this summer, the cost of insurance wasn't in anyone's 2012 budget, and no one applied for special event funding through the Chamber. The $1,000 to $1,500 increase in insurance premiums came as a surprise, he said.

Still, in a community that bills itself as a ski town with enduring Western traditions, a cattle drive has its allure. The modern demonstration cattle drive down Lincoln Avenue was first held in 2000 as an observance of the city of Steamboat Springs' centennial.

"It was just going to be a one-time event for the centennial," Vogelaar said. "We've had the cattle drive inconsistently over the last several years."

Bill Montag organized the 2000 cattle drive, and the plan was for longtime ranching families to lead the drive, with new ranchers manning the streets and riding drag at the end of the herd.

The late Elk River Valley rancher and cowboy poet Bill May supplied the cattle that first summer.

The cattle drive has resonated with visitors to the area. In 2004, Miami resident Mary Hughes told the Steamboat Today that when she first heard of the event, she felt she had to witness it.

"It's for me probably a once-in-a-lifetime event," Hughes said at the time.

The cattle drive suffered a major misstep in 2001 when it was planned for late on a Friday afternoon, started late, and managed to snarl rush-hour traffic. After a year off, it returned in 2003 on a Sunday morning — a day and time that proved to be much more successful, Vogelaar said.

For a number of years, including the last time the cattle drive was held, Saddleback Ranch and the Iacovetto family provided a herd of picturesque longhorn cattle. And because it was possible to drive the cattle across the range all the way from their ranch near Milner into Steamboat, that arrangement saved the expense of trucking the cattle, Vogelaar said. But the Iacovettos sold the longhorns.

This year, longtime Routt County rancher Doug Wheeler has arranged for a herd of cattle to be trucked to the event, Vogelaar said.

If the cattle drive can be held this year, viewing opportunities will be expanded by routing the drive across the Fifth Street Bridge from the rodeo grounds and then west on Yampa Street before turning up 11th Street to Lincoln Avenue and heading east to Fifth Street for the return to the rodeo grounds.

Vogelaar thinks the cattle drive is a worthy event that builds understanding of Steamboat's history.

"It amazes me how many people come here and have never seen cattle before," he said.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com