Carbondale brightens up the Gus Darien Riding Arena |

Carbondale brightens up the Gus Darien Riding Arena

John Colson

CARBONDALE — The Gus Darien Riding Arena will be brighter for next summer’s rodeo fans, and for this coming winter’s hockey players and recreational skaters on the town-owned ice rink, thanks to a just-completed $117,000 project to replace the old arena lights with new, higher-tech equipment.

Plus, the new lighting system will not be as much of a bother to the neighbors and others who, from their homes, gaze down at the arena from near and far.

At least those are the outcomes that town officials and their funding partners, Garfield County and the Wild West Rodeo Board, are hoping for. The county put up $50,000 of the project cost, the rodeo board donated $5,000, and the town came up with the remaining $62,000, according to Recreation Director Jeff Jackel.

The arena, which is owned by the town, is home to what is arguably the most popular rodeo series in this part of the Western Slope, the Carbondale Wild West Rodeo, operated by a board of local business owners and residents.

Jackel said the new lights were turned on for the first time on Wednesday night, after R&A Electric of Carbondale finished installing new 60-foot poles topped by 1,500-watt metal halide lamps, which are specially designed to cast the illumination downward at the ground rather than broadcast it outward, thereby limiting light pollution that had been a nuisance to homeowners in the area.

The lights are made by the Musco Sports Lighting company of Iowa, whose website boasts an Emmy and an Oscar for their achievements in lighting up sporting events of different kinds, including NCAA football telecasts and the lights at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina.

Jackel said he attended the inaugural lighting-up of the new system on Wednesday, “and I just couldn’t believe it.”

The new system replaces dimmer lamps that were perched on lower poles (40 feet tall) and that had prompted complaints from neighbors along County Road 100 (Catherine Store Road), and from residents living in the Missouri Heights region.

The new lamps, he said, have special “louvres” that direct the light downward and block it from shining out sideways.

Noting that the lights get the most use in the winter months, when darkness falls early and ice skaters like to get going early, too, Jackel said he is hopeful that the new design will both provide better light to skate by and less light pollution for the neighbors.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how they are with the light pollution, with the snow and ice,” he remarked. “I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

Currently, the lights are being left on for eight hours a day, to provide a 100-hour “burn period,” kind of like breaking in a new car, Jackel said.

Steve Groom, a town employee who also is a rodeo competitor, said that he, at least, was pleasantly surprised when the lights went on Wednesday night.

“To see the difference from what it was, it’s a night-and-day difference,” Groom said.

Looking forward to the 2014 rodeo season, Groom joked, “I can’t use the excuse that it was too dark, when I miss during roping.”

Seriously, he said, the lighting was dimmer before but was not a real problem.

“I think everybody was accustomed to it,” he explained.

In addition to the lighting changes, the town has put its engineering consultant, SGM, to work assessing the structural integrity of the announcer’s booth.

“It looks as though it was built by volunteers,” Jackel said of the booth.

And while it has shown no signs of collapsing or otherwise becoming a problem, Jackel said it has on occasion become so crowded that the occupants wondered if it would be able to accommodate one more person.

The engineers, at a cost of approximately $700, will soon submit their study to the town, leaving it to the trustees to decide whether improvements should be built into the 2014 budget or can wait.

“We’re hoping not to spend more than $2,000 or so,” Jackel predicted. “We just want to make sure it’s structurally sound.”

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