A place of tremendous beauty

Cowboys work to preserve historical Egeria Park Roping Club

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— Egeria (e jir e a): Roman myth. A nymph who advised Numa, the second king of Rome.

It was believed the nymph Egeria lived in a place of tremendous beauty, which is why the first settlers who came to the area now known as South Routt County named the vast and beautiful valley they found "Egeria Park."

But over time, as communities were founded in South Routt, the name Egeria Park began to fade away -- until a group of cowboys came to its rescue.

Cattle roping was -- and still is -- a necessary skill for cowboys. If a steer got away from the herd, someone had to run it down. Some were more skilled or faster than others, so roping competitions eventually arose, and rodeos became popular.

South Routt's first rodeo arena was created in Toponas by the local ranchers in 1942. They named it the Egeria Park Roping Club.

Though it has moved about two miles down the road from its original spot in Toponas, the Egeria Park Roping Club is still here today. And much of the original arena is still here.

Sixty-year-old railroad ties make up part of the fence circling the arena, while rusty nails and catch pins hold the stalls together. Under 3 feet of snow, it is difficult to tell what works and what doesn't, but club member and Yampa resident Paul Bonnifield says the arena still serves its purpose.

Most importantly, though the actual arena is old and dilapidated, the club is still going strong with about 35 local members.

"It's a lot of tradition," club member and Yampa resident Paul Bonnifield said. "Historically, it's very important, as far as I'm concerned. This end of the valley is still much of a ranching community. People who enjoy ranch life enjoy roping."

Bobby George, a rancher in Yampa, has been roping since he was 9 years old and been a member of the Egeria Park Roping Club since 1983.

"It's a great little thing for the community," George said. "There aren't that many great team ropers from the area though."

Team roping takes a team of two: a header to rope the steer's head and a heeler to rope its back legs.

"A lot of us ranchers don't have time to practice," said George, who works on average 50 hours a week on his ranch. "But my philosophy is you can run your ranch or you can let your ranch run you.

"I try to run my ranch, so I can make time for roping and teaching my daughters to rope."

George's two daughters, Morgan and Madison, have both started roping.

An interesting fact about the club is that there is only one membership fee, whether just for an individual or a big family.

"We try to keep it family oriented and available to the community," said Linda Dilley, secretary treasurer of the roping club.

The arena is a family gathering place where different community groups, such as the local 4-H club, gather and ride. The place even has a playground for the children, but that doesn't mean the club doesn't attract some serious, hard-driven ropers.

Roping has become a highly specialized sport with big cash prizes up for grabs and equipment -- from ropes and saddles to horses and cattle -- developed specifically for the sport. Ropers can't solely rely on high-tech equipment to be good; it takes practice.

"Skill-wise, it can be very demanding," Bonnifield said. "It's a skill between your horse and what you can do. It's a challenge to handle stock and handle stock right."

"It takes a lot of skill," George said. "Just like any sport -- watching pro sports, it looks so easy, but then you get out there. You have to factor in a person's skill level and the horse's skill level. It's not easy."

The Egeria Park Roping Club wants to continue to be a place for ropers to show off their skills and a place for community and family gatherings. The administration is in the process of applying for additional funding to ensure the facility is upgraded and preserved for generations to come, Dilley said.

"I think it's great that something has been able to go this long. It shows a little bit of strength in the community," George said.

And to prove the Egeria Park Roping Club is a preservation of history, Bonnifield said: "Essentially, we're the same way we were 50 years ago."

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