When Gilbert Rodeo Park closed in February, uncertainty surrounded the venerable Gilbert Days Rodeo — regarding both a 2011 venue and new permanent home.
The former issue was settled recently, when the Apache Junction Rodeo Park Events Center was finalized as the site for this year’s rodeo Nov. 18-20. And the president of the nonprofit organization that stages the annual Gilbert Days celebrations is cautiously optimistic that a permanent home can be found within the town limits.
“We’re glad the days of doom and gloom are behind us,” said Chelle Bullard, president of the Gilbert Promotional Corporation. “The (Apache Junction location) just made the most sense for us, and we’re going to have a wonderful event there.”
Meanwhile, the GPC waits as the town proceeds on a parks master plan, which will take time and money to implement.
Each of the six town council candidates at a forum hosted by the East Valley Tribune earlier this week spoke of the importance of maintaining Gilbert’s roots as a ranching and farming town.
“The rodeo parents in our town are just as passionate as the soccer moms and Little League parents,” vice mayor Les Presmyk said.
Presmyk said that a new equestrian center could spring from land the town acquired in the controversial Zinke dairy purchase. But those plans have yet to be finalized.
“I am feeling a good about (a permanent site), but I don’t want to be presumptuous,” Bullard said. “We’re hopeful.”
Citing necessary water-retention remediation costs of as much as $4 million, Gilbert opted not to renew the lease to Rodeo Park in November. Maricopa County had leased the 47-acre former landfill site to the town since 1982.
As for this year’s rodeo, the Apache Junction Parks & Recreation Department offered its facility for use when the Gilbert Rodeo Park’s fate became evident. The Queen Creek Horseshoe Park and Equestrian Centre and Marley Farms in Gilbert were also considered as sites.
Discussions reached “momentum” in the last two weeks, Bullard said. Apache Junction required involvement from a local group for use of the rodeo park, so the GPC will operate the Gilbert Days Rodeo in conjunction with the Superstition Mountain Promotional Corporation.
The nonprofit SMPC runs the annual Lost Dutchman Rodeo in Apache Junction.
“Our community can always use a nice event, so we reached out,” said Jeff Bell, Apache Junction Parks & Recreation director. “The SMPC has been doing a good job conducting rodeos for years, so putting the two groups together didn’t take a great deal of thought.”
Bullard said that the costs to use the Rodeo Park Events Center are “very reasonable.”
Typically, Bell said, the facility charges a rental fee of $150 a day, $15 an hour for lights and $30 a day for use of the public-address system. Apache Junction also charges for equipment operators and cleanup crews, but the GPC and SMPC aim to save money by filling those roles with volunteers.
The Gilbert Days Parade will remain inside the town, and it is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 5 in hopes of enabling the town’s high-school bands to participate. The bands had to miss last year’s parade due to a state competition.
Bullard said she hopes the carnival, which had been held at the Gilbert Rodeo Park, can find a location downtown.
“I’m really looking forward to bringing on the events of this year and preserving the town’s Western heritage with the parade, rodeo, carnival and other events,” Bullard said. “Those are things that the entire community can come together for and enjoy one another.”
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