A ranching celebration

Cowboys' Roundup Days showcases rural Western heritage

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— Dean Vogelaar wants to turn back the clock. He wants to see cattle drives down Lincoln Avenue, attend pioneer picnics and compete in ranch rodeos.

He's not alone.

"I think it's essential to keep the cowboy in Cowboys' Roundup Days," Vogelaar said.

That's why Vogelaar and several other members of the community gather each year to incorporate traditional ranching events in Steamboat's Fourth of July celebration. The group makes up the Cowboys' Roundup Days Committee.

"We wanted to have some events that symbolized what used to go on in Steamboat Springs," Vogelaar said. "We want to provide fun events that don't cost a lot of money."

The grassroots committee will drive the point home Sunday, when 100 pair of cattle are herded down Steamboat's Lincoln Avenue as part of the Saddleback Ranch Cattle Drive sponsored by F.M. Light & Sons. This year's drive will feature longhorns and should arrive downtown at about 10 a.m.

The cattle drive began as part of the city of Steamboat Springs' centennial celebration in 2000 and has continued to grow in popularity each year. This year, thousands of people are expected to line Lincoln Avenue to witness the event.

Bill Montag, a committee member who helped start the drive six years ago, said the cattle drive was started as a one-time event. However, demand has prompted annual encore performances. Despite a rough run in 2001 -- when poor timing and the closure of U.S. Highway 40 backed up traffic -- the event has been well-received by locals and visitors.

Many changes were made after the problems of 2001. The event was moved to a differnt time and day, and organizers started using a rolling closure system that has helped ease traffic concerns.

In the past couple of years, most of the congestion surrounding the event has been found on the sidewalks as people line up along Lincoln Avenue from Bud Werner Memorial Library to Fifth Street, where the cattle turn and head to the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena.

For fourth generation Routt County rancher Jerad Iacovetto, the cattle drive is a family tradition.

His family got involved with the drive three years ago, but his grandfather Jim Thompson was running cattle between Strawberry Park and the Saddleback Ranch long before it became a tourist attraction.

"He would run his cattle through downtown every summer from Strawberry Park to the Saddleback Ranch," Iacovetto said. "He might have been one of the last ranchers in the valley to do it."

Although the days of seeing cattle wondering through downtown Steamboat have come to an end, the celebration of Steamboat's ranching heritage doesn't stop with the cattle drive.

After the cattle drive ends Sunday, the Routt County Pioneer Picnic is a chance to renew old acquaintances and make new friends. Participants are encouraged to bring a covered dish to share. Meats and family-friendly drinks will be provided for the event, which begins at 11:30 a.m. at the rodeo grounds.

Organizer Jo Semotan said the first pioneer picnic was held in 1912. She said it's a Steamboat tradition that has brought ranchers together to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday for generations.

In the afternoon, the celebration will continue with a Heritage Ranch Tour and the first Working Ranch Horse Competition.

The ranch tours will depart at 12:45 p.m. from the rodeo grounds and will return by 4 p.m. The tour will visit local working ranches to provide a chance for locals and visitors to learn about the valley's rich ranching from local historians.

The Working Ranch Horse Competition is designed to test a rancher's ability to guide his or her horse in a number of competitions that mimic daily ranch chores. The rider and horse must complete an obstacle course in which they pull and cross logs, open and shut gates and prove they can manage their horse in many situations.

Thompson said the winning horse should be an example of what every rancher wants to work with. He also thinks the competition will provide plenty of entertainment on a Sunday afternoon.

The day will come to an end with the annual Ranch Rodeo, which is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. at the rodeo grounds.

The Ranch Rodeo will be limited to 20 four-person teams, each of which will be required to complete a set of four tasks within six minutes. The team completing the tasks the quickest will be crowned the winner.

The events are different from what many people have come to expect from professional rodeo.

In the Ranch Rodeo, amateur cowboys must rope a calf and brand it (with paint), milk a wild cow, pen a steer, and rope and tie a steer. The tasks represent the type of work ranchers must accomplish on the ranch every day.

Teams are expected from Steamboat, Hayden, Walden, Meeker and Colorado Springs. Admission is free.

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