CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — Although summer is still months away, the COVID-19 response is threatening one of the season’s hallmarks: rodeos.
In early April, the Sisters Rodeo announced it would cancel the annual June event. “We’ve survived rain, snow and forest fires in the past, but this Corona Virus [sic] has pulled out all it’s [sic] guns on us,” the board of directors wrote.
Nationwide, more than 50 Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association rodeos that were supposed to take place between mid-April and late June have canceled. Some 20 more have rescheduled.
NW Bullfest in St. Helens announced on Facebook last week that the annual event would not take place this year. It’s generally held at the end of June.
Eastern Oregon’s Pendleton Round-Up is also monitoring the COVID response, but has more time than some of the other rodeos since it doesn’t happen until late summer.
“As of now we’d like to take the time to reassure our community that the Pendleton Round-Up and Happy Canyon have our sights set on celebrating our 110th anniversary in September,” the rodeo’s homepage reads.
The St. Paul Rodeo, set to kick off June 30, will have to make a choice much sooner. In more than 80 years, the rodeo has never canceled. During World War II they put hoods over the stadium lights so enemy combatants couldn’t see them, according to general manager Cindy Schonholtz. Even then, the show went on.
“There’s so much history and tradition and it’s such an important thing for folks in the Willamette Valley over the Fourth of July,” Schonholtz told KOIN 6 News. “We’re gonna wait as long as we can to see what the environment looks like in the State of Oregon.”
Fourth of July is known as “cowboy Christmas” because of the large number of competitions that take place around the holiday all across the country.
The most important consideration is everyone’s health, Schonholtz said. They’ve already canceled the kids’ rodeo camp which was set for May 9. But even if social distancing measures are rescinded soon, the rodeo will have to look at where members and sponsors are financially. One of the main sponsors is Spirit Mountain Casino, which has been closed for weeks.
“So many people are hurting,” Schonholtz said. “And then you look at this community. St. Paul is the rodeo, and the rodeo is St. Paul. Would this community be comfortable bringing in people?”
Organizers are torn, recognizing that “quite frankly, people are counting on something to do this summer” and want to “celebrate our country” with the longstanding Fourth of July weekend tradition.
Schonholtz said a decision will likely have to be made in early May. That would leave them about two months to finish preparing for the city’s biggest event of the year.
Even if they do have to cancel – and it’s still a big “if” at this point – she said the rodeo will be okay. For almost 20 years, the board has been saving for big capital improvement projects, she said.
“We will come back … if we have to postpone our 85th annual rodeo,” she said. “We can weather the storm.”