Ropin’ and ridin’ at the fair |

Ropin’ and ridin’ at the fair

Niki TurnerPost Independent ContributorGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

RIFLE, Colorado – A sold-out crowd packed the grandstands Friday for the return of the Colorado Pro Rodeo Association (CPRA) to the Garfield County Fair. Spectators jockeying for a seat in the stands weren’t limited to rodeo aficionados, either. Babes-in-arms, grandparents and great-grandparents, teenagers sporting multi-colored hair and 4-H families taking a breather before Saturday’s livestock sale made for a well-rounded audience.”This is the biggest turnout I’ve seen in years,” said Jana Farris, a Silt resident and regular rodeo attendee at the fair with her children, whose 4-H livestock projects were slated for the junior livestock sale on Saturday.The fair board brought back the CPRA this year, at the request of residents.”In 2011 we had pretty decent numbers with the PBR [Professional Bull Riders], but we didn’t sell out,” said Krista DeHerrera of Valley Events, Inc. “This was the biggest rodeo as far as attendance we’ve ever seen.”More than 1,500 people squeezed themselves into the grandstands to watch a complete rodeo repertoire of bareback, saddle bronc, roping, bull riding, barrel racing and the final rounds for the girls and boys “mutton bustin'” competition, where kids try to stay aboard some rather uncooperative sheep for a full 8-second ride. One youngster, after being tossed into the rails by her mutton, jumped up and threw her hands up in the air like any other pro rodeo rider.Friday’s fun lasted into the late evening, as the band Already Gone took the Backstage venue for live entertainment following the rodeo. “We had a lot of traffic after the rodeo,” DeHerrera said. It’s the first time the fair board had entertainment scheduled after the rodeo. Crowds milled around the fairgrounds until after 11 p.m., enjoying the live music, beer garden and colorful vendors’ booths lining the perimeter of “Merchant Village.”Vendors, twice as many as last year, offered jewelry, clothing, candles and toys, a bounce house and petting zoo for kids, along with a full complement of classic county fair taste treats, from cotton candy to Navajo tacos to fresh-squeezed lemonade and Italian ices.

On Saturday morning, the sweet smell of funnel cakes permeated the atmosphere for blocks around the fairgrounds, heightening the atmosphere for the annual parade down Railroad Avenue at 10 a.m. Clydesdales, fire engines, beauty pageant winners, and a slew of local candidates vying for election in November handed out candy, water, popsicles and political flyers to residents lining Railroad Avenue from City Market all the way to Third Street. After the parade, spectators drifted toward Metro Park for the classic car show, or to the fairgrounds for the annual buyers’ barbecue and 4-H livestock sale in the afternoon. Prospective buyers lined up to get a number and a sale order before the barbecue, some of them representing corporations, others from area ranches, and some individuals. Many, like County Commissioner John Martin, choose the “buy back” program, in which the buyer pays the difference between the auction sale purchase price and the current market price established the day of the sale, thereby supporting the 4-H youth without having to take possession of the animal itself. For some, this year’s fair was especially bittersweet. “I’ll probably have red eyes by the time I get to the ring,” said Rachel Dowdell. This is her last year as a 4-H competitor. “It’s a bittersweet year.” Sweet because it’s her first win of the coveted grand champion ribbon with this year’s steer, Yogi. Bitter because she’s leaving behind a program that has been a huge part of her life for ten years. “This has been my priority,” she said. For the last nine months, Dowdell cared for the steer she hand-picked from 1,000 other calves last fall, and watched him grow from about 500 lbs., to his current weight of 1,293 lbs. She will take another of her steers – she has nine head of her own cattle she has bred and raised on her family’s Divide Creek ranch south of Silt – to compete at the Colorado State Fair at the end of August in Pueblo. The money she earns from the sales will help pay her way through college at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling beginning this fall.Many 4-H youth whose projects qualify for the livestock sale squirrel away the profits for college. Others, just starting out, are still figuring out how to balance their expenses with their sale money. Timothy Jenkins, 12, a New Castle homeschooler in his second year in 4-H, said he made “about $3” on his poultry project last year. This year he hopes his first place chicken, appropriately named “Nuggets,” will follow in the footsteps of his brother’s (Donald Jenkins) bird. In 2011, Donald’s grand champion poultry winner sold for $1,200 at the junior livestock sale. Others, like the Jackson siblings, are already thinking about next year. Jared Jackson, 11, and his sisters Ember, 13, and Kindle, 15, raise rabbits, along with steers, pigs, chickens, and horses. The trio has earned 10 buckles at the Garfield County Fair. Despite the fact the Jacksons’ rabbit cages were so festooned with ribbons it was hard to see the animals within, Jared is keeping his rabbits as breeders for his next round of 4-H projects. “There’s a horrible success rate,” Jared explained, cradling a bunny in his arms and offering instructions to parents who wanted their children to pet the animal. One year they had 109 rabbits born, but only 28 survived. “That’s really hard,” he said, although he considers “checking them in for fair” the hardest part of the project. This year, he’ll take his beribboned bunnies home and look forward to more success next year. That may be one of the greatest strengths behind the 4-H livestock clubs. Even while the youth are developing a strong sense of responsibility and a healthy work ethic – when was the last time you washed and dried a 1,200 pound steer? – they are also learning the value of a dollar, how to improve their product, and the sense of satisfaction that comes from gauging their own successes and failures, and then returning to do it all over again next year.

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