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Strawberry Days rodeo bucked

Joelle Milholm
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler Post Independent
ALL |

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado “In February, the Strawberry Days Rodeo was named 2007’s best large-purse rodeo by the Colorado Pro Rodeo Association (CPRA). This year, the annual event was going to reach new heights as the adventure television series Globe Trekker planned to come to Glenwood Springs and film the two-day rodeo scheduled for June 13-14 (last weekend).

That was until May 21, when the Strawberry Days Rodeo Committee was forced to announce the cancellation of the rodeo due to failing conditions at the Glenwood Rodeo Arena, rising stock coordinator prices and the lack of a qualified organization to benefit from the event and help the committee coordinate.

Instead of Glenwood Springs, Globe Trekkers went to Walden, Colo., to cover its rodeo, a decision that was made by the CPRA once its top rodeo was no longer an option.



“Glenwood Springs could have been featured,” said Strawberry Days Rodeo committee member Leslie Torres. “That affects tourism and has other repercussions.”

The recent cancellation of the rodeo is not a short-term issue. Unless ample work on the arena ” from repairing gates, to fixing chutes, to making the grandstands and restrooms handicap-accessible (to name a few problems) ” is completed, the Strawberry Days Rodeo will be no more. The 400 participants and 1,500 spectators who attended the Strawberry Days Rodeo in years past will be permanently looking for other events to occupy their time.



The arena is owned by the city of Glenwood Springs and Torres feels it falls to the wayside in Glenwood’s maintenance priorities.

“Next year, unless something happens, we’d go somewhere else [like Carbondale or Rifle] and it would be the Father’s Day Rodeo or something,” she said. “This year, there was too much to do and it was too late for that.”

With a move out of Glenwood Springs, the rodeo, which has been held for more than 100 years (with an absence every now and then during hard times like World War II) will lose its historic name and unofficial tie to Strawberry Days.

Tom Barnes, the Glenwood Springs Parks and Recreation Director, agrees the Glenwood Rodeo Area is falling apart, but also doesn’t think fixing it is a worthwhile use of funds.

“To try and do a rehabbing project would have been very expensive and, with competition in Rifle and Carbondale, we didn’t feel it was in our best interest to expense those kinds of funds into a program that is readily accessible nearby,” he said.

Barnes and Torres’ husband, Smokey Torres, met last fall to do a walk-through at the arena and discuss its ever-depleting condition.

“We did a walk-through with Smokey and he was pointing out all of the problems, from rotting boards, to nails sticking out, to chutes being two narrow or needing realigning. It would cost 10s of thousands of dollars for an activity that is one day,” Barnes said. “We sent out information to all of them letting them know if they wanted improvements, it was their responsibility to get us a proposal. We didn’t get any responses.”

The Torreses acknowledged they did the walk-through, but felt it was unfair to them to put together a proposal that would have taken a lot of time. They also felt that if they did put together a proposal, there was no assurance that the city would carry it out.

Barnes agreed, saying the city is not obligated to follow through, especially since it says the arena has only been rented out by the Strawberry Days Rodeo in past years. The only other user of the grounds was Alpine Adrenaline Paintball, which is no longer there.

While Barnes insists the Glenwood Rodeo Arena is only used once a year, Torres said that there are more people who use the grounds than just the Strawberry Days Rodeo.

People come to ride their horses, he has seen birthday parties there and also thinks that something similar to the weekly rodeo in Carbondale every summer and things like bull riding camps could be a big hit in Glenwood.

Torres also believes if stables were added to the venue, many Glenwood residents could board their horses their instead of places in Silt and Rifle. The money charged would go back the city.

Denneane Conn, the former National Barrel Horse Association District 10 (an area that covers a large chunk of the Western Slope) director, said she would have held barrel racing competitions in Glenwood if the ground was in better shape. Without the ground being maintained and with winter snow being dumped on the grounds, conditions are getting worse and worse.

“The fences aren’t a big deal for barrel racing, gates don’t really matter, but the ground does. The ground used to be OK, but then no one worked on it. The city would not buy a tractor and an implement and I don’t have one,” said Conn, who used to enter in team roping events in the Strawberry Days Rodeo in the past, but stopped because of safety concerns. “I would pay to have barrel racing in Glenwood. But [the city] has to spend money to make money. If they clean it up, I think a lot of people would use it. I hate to see any rodeo fall to the wayside, but it is an expensive hobby and it is not worth risking your horse.”

Conn said she would pay $200 to rent the Garfield County Rodeo Grounds in Rifle for barrel racing events and would have paid the same if conditions were better in Glenwood.

The Carbondale Wild West Rodeo Series ” a 12-week event held every Thursday night at the Gus Darien Riding Arena in Carbondale ” has seen growth not only in contestants (from 500 to 1,000 in four years), but also in spectators in recent years, proving the popularity of rodeos in the Valley. The series is organized by Carbondale Rodeo Committee and marketing volunteer Kathy Small, who says that it takes tons of volunteers working year round to pull it off. It also takes a working relationship with the city of Carbondale.

“It is a combined effort with us and the city, and it is a really productive relationship,” Small said.

As an example, Small said volunteers helped pay for new bleachers and the city put in new lights. That kind of share of responsibility is needed to pull off an operation on the scale of rodeos, but doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon in Glenwood.

Torres has contacted companies that would match community efforts to renovate the Glenwood Rodeo Arena, and it is eligible for the Colorado Lottery Funds, if grants were applied for.

Torres can’t secure them unless the city promises to go through with it, and Barnes knows he can’t do it ” especially with relocating Highway 82 to the current location of the rodeo grounds being one of 22 ideas currently being explored as means of relieving Highway 82 traffic through downtown Glenwood Springs.

“It is one of those things that is it really worth putting money into when there could be a road coming in?” Barnes explained. “We are not abandoning it. We are looking at what other uses it can have and what other avenues we can take.”

The Strawberry Days Rodeo has always run as a nonprofit organization and last year benefited Fellowship of Christian Cowboys and Garfield County 4H shooting sports club.

Torres says having an organization to work with helps the rodeo bring in sponsors as well as volunteers to help get the rodeo ready each year and run it. This year, no beneficiary stepped up and, Torres said, even if the arena was safe, the rodeo didn’t have the manpower to run the event.

In the past, supplies and labor have been donated by volunteers and the Torreses themselves to get the rodeo ready each year.

“We have spent our own money fixing it up,” Leslie Torres said. “My husband has poured his blood and sweat into it and he would love to see it revived. It came down to if we try to fix it, will [the city] maintain it? By next year we’d have to go out and do it again.”

The Strawberry Days Rodeo was scheduled for June 13-14, one week before this year’s Strawberry Days Festival. Some years the two were on the same weekend and others, they were one week apart.

While the rodeo was not officially linked with Strawberry Days, Krista Kaufman, an event planner with Valley Events Inc., who helps organize Strawberry Days with the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association, said the rodeo’s absence is unfortunate.

“We are sad to see it go and we hope it will be back in the future,” Kaufman said.


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