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Rodeo Park Stories #2

Emotions run high as Gilbert park hosts its last rodeo

by Srianthi Perera - Feb. 12, 2011 07:13 AM
The Arizona Republic

Last Saturday, like many Saturdays before, Gilbert Rodeo Park was a beehive of festivity.

Little girls and boys in riding gear sat proudly upright on neighing horses. Organizers bustled about while parents and grandparents sat on the bleachers surveying goat-tying, barrel racing, roping and other events played out one by one in the arena.
The common topic of conversation that day was the park’s impending end. The Queen Creek Junior Rodeo was the last rodeo for Gilbert Rodeo Park, which will be completely dismantled by Tuesday.

The town refused to renew its lease with Maricopa County for the park, which sits atop a closed landfill, because the county wanted drainage repairs that could have cost as much as $4.1 million.

“It’s very sad. It hasn’t even really sunk in yet. I can’t image what it would be like to drive by here on Val Vista and realize that the grounds aren’t up here,” said Taryn Hale,22, of Mesa “It’s going to hit really hard.”

Hale was a Gilbert Days Rodeo Missy in 1999. Her sisters, Marjon Brown, Shanda Riggs and Kelsee Bradshaw, were all crowned rodeo queens here.

“It was a family affair for us. I feel like I was raised within these arena gates,” added Hale.

Justin Allan saw bringing his family to the park as a tradition.

“I’ve come here with my dad. My three girls have come here with me. So that tradition goes away,” said Allan, vice president of Queen Creek Junior Rodeo Association.

Allan’s mom, Mary Jeffs, and wife Christina watched as his 10-year-old daughter, Taylor, took part in goat-tying. “We did the same things when he was her age,” Jeffs said of her son.

Allan grew up in Gilbert, when “they herded sheep down the roads and there were irrigation ditches and fields to play in and ride in.” When the population skyrocketed, he moved to Queen Creek.

To him, Gilbert Rodeo Park stands for more than an arena for riding and competition.

“It represents the old town Gilbert when Gilbert was all agriculture and farming community. Now it’s no more. There’ are no more farms in Gilbert, there are no more ranches in Gilbert, there are no more dairies in Gilbert and now there are no more arenas in Gilbert,” he said. “Gilbert is gone to me.”

Hale bemoaned the community that was built around the park. That community feeling wouldn’t be there when she rides in another venue, she said.

“This place is not just fences and bleachers,” Hale said. “This is a community and this has cultivated many different kinds of communities: You have the youths who have been involved with horses and rodeo, and then you have adults who have been roping and barrel-racing here and there’s just this entire community that has formed around this little hill up here.”

“So wherever else we go to ride, it’s not going to be the same. . . . It’s just getting ripped out right from the middle of us.”

People from other Valley cities became familiar with Gilbert because of its arena.

Savana Egge, 13, is a member of the Queen Creek Youth Rodeo who comes from New River to barrel-race. “Usually there are a lot of rodeos here. This is the last one. I’m sad because I really like this place. I just like the arenas,” she said.

Queen Creek Youth Rodeo has scheduled its next rodeo for March 11, but it hasn’t found a new venue.

Neither has the Gilbert Days Rodeo.

“We have been searching and exploring a lot of venues but we haven’t been able to find a focal point yet,” said Chelle Bullard, president of Gilbert Promotional Corporation, which organizes Gilbert Days and runs the park.

Among the venues being considered are Apache Junction, which has a rodeo arena, and Queen Creek, which has Horseshoe Park and Equestrian Center. So far, nothing is definite.

The town is trying to help, Bullard said.

“It’s not that we want to expand into another arena. We’ve lost the only one in Gilbert,” she said.

In the meantime, parts of the rodeo park have been dismantled. Some buildings, the ticket booth, announcing tower, some bleachers and fencing have been removed.

They will be stored in a 1-acre lot loaned as storage for a year by a Gilbert resident who doesn’t want to be named.

Later, after a scheduled 4-H horse show, Chandler Mounted Posse will hold a work party to help the GPC dismantle the remaining structures.

“It is sad but I’m hopeful for a new beginning,” Bullard said. “We just have to wait.”

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