By Mike Maltais
For the first time since its founding over four decades ago, the 44th annual Methow Valley Labor Day Rodeo scheduled for Sept. 5-6, has been cancelled due to the ongoing wildfire activity throughout Okanogan and surrounding counties.
Dennis Gardner, president of the Methow Valley Horsemen (MVH), the group that produces the twice yearly rodeos, announced the cancellation last Wednesday (Aug. 26), following a meeting of the MVH officers.
“Owing to the present conditions we have decided to cancel the upcoming Labor Day weekend rodeo,” Gardner told the News. Gardner added that the Horsemen wished to thank all the sponsors and supporters who have helped make the rodeo possible and the loyal spectators who reserved a spot on their calendars for the annual shows.
Just one week prior to Gardner’s announcement, three firefighters, including 2013 Liberty Bell High School graduate and U.S. Forest Service employee, Tom
Zbyszewski, died on Aug. 19 when a sudden wind shift in the newly ignited Twisp River Fire overran the trapped crew. During the days that followed, the towns of Twisp and Winthrop were under evacuation advisories and smoke from wildfires remained at levels considered unhealthy for outdoor activity.
The 45th annual Methow Valley Memorial Day Rodeo is scheduled to take place May 28-29, 2016.
Rodeo has a long tradition in the Methow Valley since at least the early 20th century. Events were cobbled together when and where cowboys could find a venue to gather and show off their skills. In later years, the local Eagles club sponsored competitions at the old rodeo grounds bordering Airport Road south of Twisp.
Then in 1971, local cowboy and wilderness outfitter Claude Miller gathered a group of like-minded friends in the persons of Tom Graves, Sandy Haase, Vernon Bame, Bill Flagg, Al Gardner and Don Dagnon, to inaugurate what today has become the biannual Methow Valley rodeos. The group set to work building a rodeo arena on the Sunny M Ranch just yonder of Winthrop. The Sunny M was then owned by the late Jack Barron, a visionary developer who conceived and built Sun Mountain Lodge.
For the next decade, the annual rodeos had a home at the Sunny M until 1983 when Nim Titcomb, manager of the Moccasin Lake Ranch, offered the Horsemen their present day arena site near Twin Lakes Road. MVH volunteers keep the site irrigated and in trim shape which usually means annual improvements to the arena facilities. This year, for example, Rick Northcott Construction pitched in to build a new announcer’s booth overlooking the arena’s six rough stock chutes.
From the mid-1980s until five years ago, the Methow Valley Rodeo was a member of the Professional Western Rodeo Association (PWRA) where competitors earned points toward Pro-West finals. In 2010, citing cost considerations and rider availability, Methow Valley Rodeo returned to the jackpot format where winning riders get back entry fees plus added money from ticket and merchandise sales and sponsor donations.
Over the years, time has trimmed the ranks of the seven original founders to four, but the dedication is being passed down to new volunteers who want to see the tradition continue. For now, that will be May 2016, when the fires are extinguished and the smoke is cleared from the valley and it will once again be rodeo time in the Methow.