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The reason the Ellensburg Rodeo will be enshrined in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs in August, is twofold. One is the proud tradition of putting on a world-class rodeo year-after-year. But the other is the fact that the rodeo committees over time have done the right thing.

The 2020 committee has been tasked more challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is hard at it. There’s still a lot of moving parts before rodeo fans can enjoy the 97th annual Ellensburg Rodeo on Labor Day weekend, but Kittitas County moving into Stage 2 of the governor’s reopening plan is a step in the right direction.

According to board president Jerry Doolin, the plan is still to move forward as if the rodeo will happen. Part of that was the installation of the new Kittitas Valley Events Center arena lighting, which should greatly improve the rodeo experience. The board has also partnered with the PRCA to provide national coverage of the rodeo performances via the Cowboy Channel.

There are still more questions than answers, but the rodeo board did meet with Kittitas County Health officer Dr. Mark Larson on Wednesday to gather information and explore options even with social distancing in Phase 4.

“We already had an idea of a lot of it, but he did a great job answering our questions,” Doolin said. “It was nice to know were all part of the community and that we’re working together to have rodeo.

“We do have some battles ahead. It’s nice to see that Kittitas County is doing things right and our goal is the safety of the community. Part of our mission statement is the community support. We want to make sure when we put this on, we want people to know that we’ve done everything possible to make them safe.”

Social distancing was the buzz word with their discussion with Dr. Larson, who has also been a physician at the rodeo for the past 20 years, general manger Megan Meeks said.

“Even when we get to Phase 4, social distancing will be the main requirement. That’s going to be one of the challenges for years, but we intend to have a great celebration and come together,” Meeks said. “The board is committed to putting another great event, but they have to find ways to do it safely.”

The Ellensburg Rodeo has always been about doing the right thing and the board is trying to address all the issues. Each of the 18 directors has developed a safety plan in their particular area, from the arena to concessions, to parking and shuttles to the Gold Buckle Club and the rest.

“I had the guys put together safety plans in the areas that they work to see where we were at. But as you know, that changes,” Doolin said. “It’s hard to say today what we’re planning because in three days it changes. That was one of the things that came out of our meeting with Dr. Larson is that we have to be very flexible to make those changes so we can continue to move forward.”

Right now, it looks like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple pieces missing, but the committee is working hard behind the chutes, so to speak. One of the biggest obstacles is the rodeo itself. Capacity at Kittitas Valley Events Center is right around 8,700 people. Saturday night’s Xtreme Bulls pushes it over 9,000.

But the four-day rodeo also includes the concert, Wild West Village, the Indian Village, and the vendors.

“We’re working hard to explore all our options,” Doolin said. “With the volunteers, I would never ask anybody to do something they didn’t feel comfortable with, so if they want to stay at home, we’re all in favor of people being comfortable.

“Right now, we’re working with the idea that we’re putting on a rodeo and we intend to make it as safe through social distancing and other options as humanly possible.”


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