Great Falls rodeo draws fans who love action, support town

 

 Peter Johnson, pjohnson@greatfallstribune.com

The 37th annual Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals was another rousing event for the fans from around Montana who attended and the local businesses who both sponsored and benefited from the mid-January crowd.

Over the course of the three-day event at the Pacific Steel and Recycling Four Seasons Arena, more than 12,240 tickets were sold, including many rodeo aficionados who came back all three days, said Susan Shannon, Montana ExpoPark director.

Friday night’s rodeo had a nearly sell-out crowd, and so many tickets were sold Saturday that many fans were ushered into the Long Branch area, at discounted prices, where they could watch the action live on big screens, she said. Sunday afternoon’s session also drew a good crowd.

“Despite potentially challenging weather, it was an outstanding rodeo, with a whole lot of people coming from out of town and a ton of support from local businesses,” she said.

Shannon said officials with Cascade County and the Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit have been discussing a possible multi-year renewal of the rodeo contract at Montana ExpoPark.

Jan and Dean Garrison, who have a small ranch near Arlee, said they have attended the rodeo several times over the past 30 years, including the last four when their daughter Jaylynn, who competed in rodeo for the University of Great Falls, volunteered at the MPRCF.

“I really like this rodeo,” Jan said. “We see a lot of friends from around Montana here and really enjoy the high quality rodeo competitors and stock.”

“Tickets costing $17 and up and a long weekend’s hotel stay make for an expensive weekend,” she said. “But it’s a lot of fun for us and worth it.”

Bruce Clausen, a retired school administrator from Glendive, is a big rodeo fan who says he picks and chooses which rodeos to attend, and has been at the last five MPRCF rodeos in Great Falls.

“This is the Montana circuit finals, the culmination of 32 rodeos held around Montana last year,” he said. “For me it’s the next best thing to attending the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.”

Clausen said he particularly enjoys the great horsemanship of the saddle bronc competition.

He also saw a basketball game Friday and a hockey game Saturday, but said it was the competitive action of the MPRCF rodeo that spurred his 348-mile, six-hour drive from Glendive.

“The timing of the big rodeo is huge for motels and hotels, restaurants and other retail businesses,” said Bob Dompier, general manager of the Heritage Inn. “January is typically an extremely slow time for most businesses after the holiday season, so this event is a true shot in the arm.”

As the host hotel for the rodeo, the Heritage sold out its rooms for several days, and was the site for a popular Chamber of Commerce business after hours event Thursday night, a pre-rodeo Calcutta at which fans could place bets on how well the rodeo competitors would perform, the Miss Rodeo Montana pageant and after-rodeo receptions Friday and Saturday nights that drew a combined 750 folks, he said.

Laura Marzetta, who owns Hoglund’s Western Wear with husband Michael, also was enjoying the rodeo Sunday.

“I like the competition among great cowboys and cowgirls and the socializing with rodeo fans and community boosters,” she said. A lot of local businesses help sponsor the multi-day rodeo, she said, which bring hundreds of people to town who patronize their businesses and enjoy Great Falls.