John Shipley, president of the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series board of directors, likes to remind the Steamboat Springs community of a historical fact — before we were Ski Town USA or Bike Town USA, we were “Cow Town USA,” and it’s a brand we’d be smart to continue to promote.
Simply stated, Steamboat’s unique reputation as more than a ski resort revolves around this area’s rural ranching roots and strong Western heritage, and the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena at the Howelsen Hill complex is vital to keeping that tradition alive and well.
Because of its proven track record as a tourism draw, we were encouraged by a recent announcement that the city and rodeo board would be pursuing a $105,000 Great Outdoors Colorado grant to finance several facility upgrades.
The grant funding, if approved, would be used to help replace the rodeo’s primary arena, alley and timed event pens. These improvements are a small piece of a more than $4 million plan to renovate the rodeo grounds laid out in the city’s existing Howelsen Hill Rodeo Facility Master Plan. This plan includes improved parking, restroom and locker room upgrades, overnight camping and RV hook-ups, more and better seating, a well-connected pedestrian circulation system and increased plaza space.
According to newspaper archives, mentions of competitive rodeos in the Steamboat Pilot date back to at least 1898, and with Steamboat’s ties to ranching, no community gathering seemed complete without some type of rodeo event. Steamboat also built a reputation in the early 1900s for producing some of the toughest bucking animals around, and local cowboy Tuffy Wren became a rodeo legend.
Now, Steamboat’s rodeo arena, conveniently located within walking distance of Lincoln Avenue, is home to Friday and Saturday night Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association-sanctioned rodeos, which attract thousands of tourists and a fair share of locals throughout the summer months.
For many tourists, a visit to Steamboat Springs in the summertime would not be complete without a night or two spent watching authentic cowboys and cowgirls compete in the rodeo ring. These family-friendly evenings also include local bluegrass music, barbecue and kids games, such as the popular mutton bustin’ event.
In marketing terms, the rodeo has been described as a “satisfier” for visitors, and according to information gathered for an RFI proposal that was submitted to the city of Steamboat Springs during the lodging tax discussion, attendance at the Pro Rodeo Series in summer 2011 was 29,000. On average, rodeo attendance holds steady with more than 25,000 people attending weekend rodeos during the series’ 10-week summer run.
As with any amenity, maintenance and upgrades are necessary to offset wear and tear caused by high usage, and throughout the years, the patina of the rodeo grounds has lost a little of its original luster.
The submission of the GOCO grant, with the promise of $45,000 in matching funds from the city and the local rodeo board, holds great promise, and we hope that funding commitment signals the beginning of more action and more allocations to come. In 2014, the city has budgeted $230,000 for design and construction of improvements at the rodeo grounds, and we’d like to see more capital funding set aside for this project to ensure upgrades are phased in during an established time frame.
In addition, the city recently granted the local rodeo board $10,000 in special event funding with $5,000 supporting the summer Pro Rodeo Series and $5,000 for a new Ranch Rodeo and First Round Bull Riding event to be held July 3. This money falls in line with plans to further solidify the rodeo grounds as a prime community gathering place in the summer by offering new and improved events.
Investing in ongoing upgrades at the rodeo arena and grounds and promoting new events is money well spent. An enhanced rodeo experience will attract even more tourists to Steamboat in the summer, boosting city sales tax and going a long way toward preserving a key part of Steamboat’s brand — its Western character and heritage.