Longtime volunteers reflect on the history of Estes Park’s marquee event
ESTES PARK, Colo. – There’s a reason why Rooftop Rodeo is considered one of the best ProRodeos in the country.
“It’s the people that made this organization fun to be in,” said Gary Cleveland, a longtime member of Western Heritage Inc., a group of volunteers that works with the town of Estes Park to produce the annual rodeo. “Their thoughts are for the benefits of the cowboys and the people in attendance.
“That’s what really draws me. There’s no showboating by anybody. It’s a real team effort to have something so good.”
After 20 Rooftop Rodeos, Cleveland has retired from the committee and will be a spectator for the 2017 edition of Rooftop Rodeo, set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 5-Monday, July 10, at Granny May Arena in Estes Park.
But Cleveland knows the undertone of the local rodeo, as do many others who have been on the committee for several years.
“Our committee works really well with each other and seems to have a very good time doing it,” said Sean Murray, a 24-year member of Western Heritage. “Of course, if we didn’t enjoy it, we wouldn’t be there.”
That resonates across the board, and the residents, tourists and contestants who make it to Estes Park in early July are the beneficiaries.
“The rodeo means tradition, which is very important to me,” said Jo Adams, now in her 26th year on the rodeo committee. “When I was a kid, Estes Park was deemed the Horse Capital of the World. It’s gone away from that, but I can see now that it’s coming back.
“The rodeo is a good way to introduce a total Western lifestyle to people, and that makes me feel good.”
Rodeo, as a sport, is a tip-of-the-hat to the days of yesteryear, when livestock was such a vital part of everyday lives. As with everything, the sport has evolved, but its roots are firmly planted in its past.
“Rodeo and horses have always been my passions,” said Amy Vigil, who is celebrating her 19th year with Western Heritage and will honor her 20th rodeo in a few weeks. “We just have so much fun with this. Watching the committee, the volunteers and the rodeo grow together is just phenomenal.
“You can’t find a better group of people, and we’re all best friends.”
That common thread has paid off rather well. Over the last two decades, Rooftop Rodeo has regularly been recognized as one of the top events in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. That falls on the committee that organizes the rodeo, but it also serves as a reflection of the town of Estes Park.
“The rodeo brings a lot of people into Estes Park,” said Chief Jenista, who has been associated with Rooftop Rodeo for 27 years. “We have the tourists, but I think the rodeo brings prestige, especially when the rodeo was No. 1 for so long.
“When I go someplace, people have heard about Rooftop. That says a lot about the rodeo.”
For those that have been in Estes Park most of their lives, the rodeo has been part of them for decades.
“It’s traditional family entertainment,” Adams said. “I think it’s a step out of the hectic, everyday pace and shows what you can do with animals and the respect for animals.
“Rooftop is just part of Estes Park, and it has been for 91 years.”
And for volunteers, being part of that history is rewarding. It takes a dedicated group of people willing to put in long hours to make each year go off without a hitch, but each volunteer believes in the end result.
“Estes Park is where I grew up,” Cleveland said. “I was a baby when we went up there. Growing up in that aspect of that town, you try to find something to give back to that town. The rodeo is a way I could give back to the town by volunteering my time and energy to an event that benefits the town.
“It makes you feel good.”
It shows every July, just as it has for 91 years.