Ouray County Seeks Funding to Replace Rustic Rodeo Grandstands
OURAY COUNTY – Generations of locals have witnessed the spectacle of the annual Labor Day Rodeo from the vantage of the rustic grandstands at the Ouray County Fairgrounds. Their WWII era construction – replete with wood plank seating on a dirt mound platform – was built with shelter, not comfort, in mind. Shelter not only from the elements, but also, seemingly, from the ravages of time.
Sitting on those hard, worn benches year after year among family, friends and neighbors, cheering the cowboys on, the grandstands wove a spell on their inhabitants that seemed to make time stand still.
But times’ ravages have finally caught up with the beloved grandstands. This year’s rodeo, scheduled for Sunday and Monday, Sept. 1 and 2, will be the grandstands’ last stand, as the county embarks on an ambitious effort to raise enough money to tear down the old structure and replace it with a new steel and aluminum, closed-deck, stadium style structure that is ADA compliant, and safe.
Over the years, with little money available from the county or user groups for maintenance, the grandstands structure has declined to the point that the county’s insurance provider and contract engineer both recommended earlier this year that the grandstands be demolished.
Indeed, the roof had reached such a level of disrepair, with rusted roofing panels and rotten wood timbers, that there was some concern it may collapse in a high wind or heavy snow event. County officials ordered the roofing structure to be removed in June 2013.
Through the removal process, the westerly portion of the block wall that houses the dirt floor of the grandstands seating area shifted along the top portion in certain sections, rendering the grandstands themselves unsafe. When it was suggested that the grandstands should be condemned and torn down, panic rippled through the rodeo community that perhaps there would be no place to sit for this year’s rodeo.
There was also plenty of fear floating around that if the grandstands were completely removed prior to the assurance that they would be replaced, they would potentially be gone forever, along with a significant piece of Ouray County’s Western culture and heritage.
Several long, impassioned meetings among county officials and various user groups led to the solution that will be on display this weekend, with the grandstands shored up for temporary use over the two-day rodeo, and a temporary sunscreen erected to protect rodeo-goers from the elements.
“The good news is, the grandstands have been approved and signed off on by the engineer to be very, very safe for the rodeo,” Fairgrounds Manager Susan Long emphasized this week.
In the meantime, the county is pursuing several grant opportunities to pay for the demolition of the old grandstands, and the construction of new ones.
The plan is to replace the grandstands in two phases. Phase 1 project components include demolition, engineered foundation work, utility rough-in, purchase and installation of a new sound system and construction of steel/aluminum, covered, ADA approved, stadium-style grandstands with approximately 1,500 seats and an 8-foot by 24-foot press box. The entire project would be completed in time for next year’s fair and rodeo.
Phase II, to be addressed in the future, would include public restrooms and concessions.
To make the first phase happen, Ouray County is pursuing a $350,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) to help fund the $600,000 project. The county is also pursuing grants of $88,403 each from the Gates Foundation and El Pomar Foundation, after receiving “green lights” from both funding entities at the Western Slope Rural Philanthropy Days held in Ridgway and Ouray in June.
The county has also committed to providing a $76,000 cash match, to reach full funding for Phase 1.
The Department of Local Affairs, too, has indicated an interest in helping to support the project if other grants fall through. Fairgrounds manager Susan Long reported that DOLA officials plan to visit the fairgrounds this Thursday – the busiest day of the fair – to familiarize themselves with the facility and observe first-hand the central role the fairgrounds plays within the community.
Preparing the GOCO grant has been a herculean task and a labor of love for Ouray County Administrator Connie Hunt. The hefty packet went out via snail mail earlier this week. The county should hear by sometime in December if the grant is awarded.
The community has also gotten behind the effort to rebuild the grandstands. Hunt said that she had received a total of 25 letters of support from community members and user groups by the time the GOCO grant packet went out the door. These had to be whittled down to just seven letters – the maximum number allowed by GOCO officials – which were included in the application.
Among the chosen seven was a letter from Shannon Robinson, whose daughter Merissa grew up competing in Gymkhanas at the fairgrounds and went on to become a two-time qualifier for the National High School Rodeo in barrel racing, and a finalist at the International Youth Rodeo in Shawnee, Ok.
“Merrissa probably knows the ground at that fairgrounds as well as her own home,” Robinson wrote. “Not only did she train and enjoy her time with her horses (and grandpa) there, she also learned a way of life. She came to know and respect many long-time members of our community.
“Our family has traveled all across Colorado for rodeo. I have lost count of the numerous fairgrounds we have visited over the past years,” Robinson continued. “But I can honestly say, the one thing that has not slipped my mind and fallen to the wayside is that although it is old and weathered, Ouray County, hands down, has the most beautiful venue for a rodeo. I have heard time and time again from families at rodeos across the state that ‘you just can’t beat those grandstands and taking in that scenery.’”
Susan Long, from her perspective as Fairgrounds Manager, said there are “a lot of people in the community, these days, who look down on the fair and rodeo. But since the 1890s this fairgrounds has been deeded and passed down to do nothing else but to celebrate our Western heritage.
“It needs to be preserved. And utilized.”
DONATE TO THE CAUSE
A special grandstands fund has been set up by the county, which is entirely separate from the its general fund. To make a charitable donation to help fund the project, write your check out to Ouray County, with “Grandstands Fund” on the memo line, and drop it off at Long’s office at the 4-H Event Center, or mail to the Ouray County Courthouse, P.O. Box C, Ouray, CO 81427.
“Even if all the grants come in, we still need $75-80,000 in donations to make this happen,” Long noted.
Are there naming opportunities?
“Absolutely,” Long said. “We’ll make it work, I tell ya. We don’t have those kinds of details down, but believe me, if someone came forward with that kind of money, we’d make it work.”
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