RANGELY I To attend Septemberfest’s craft fair and park events Monday afternoon was to get a sense of scope. Canopied vendor tables arched across the grassy sweep of Elks Park. Antique, custom-painted and rare cars buffed to perfection flanked the park’s west corner. Children fed the animals at the petting zoo under the pine trees near the east gazebo. Parallel columns of folding tables stacked with shredded beef, salads and desserts awaited festival-goers.
Scope was a useful measure. But this year, size said more about just what it takes to pull off this event each year.
Like 29 cowboys riding three dozen 1200- to 1900-pound bulls at the third annual Rock ‘n’ Bulls & Barrels event, which was attended by approximately 1,300 people Saturday night.
Like 2,600 “shots,” approximately $15,000 worth of sky-bursting rockets, lit in the course of Sunday night’s 34-minute fireworks display. Twenty volunteers worked together to ignite 1,700 rockets in the show’s grand finale.
Like 1,328 pounds of clod beef roasted for 11 hours in a 28-foot-long pit filled nearly two feet deep with coals generated from nearly eight cords of wood.
“(Septemberfest is) an amazing dog to watch and run,” Western Rio Blanco Metropolitan Park and Recreation District (WRBM) Executive Director Tim Webber said. “With each year of directing it, you see a whole new host of issues you weren’t anticipating. Things change. The challenges are always different.”
This year, one challenge was thunderstorms, which dampened, but failed to put a damper on, the chili cook off and rodeo Saturday night, then contributed a spectacular lightning show in concert with Sunday evening’s fireworks. The rodeo and fireworks were delayed by rain or wind for approximately 15 minutes but then went on as planned.
Colorado Northwestern Community College head rodeo coach and Rock ‘n’ Bulls and Barrels event organizer Jed Moore was pleased with the weekend’s outcome.
“It went very, very well,” Moore said. “I think we probably surpassed last year’s attendance, and I think we surpassed last year’s fund raising, as well.”
The bull riding, barrel racing, and golf scramble events combined raised an estimated $10,000 for CNCC rodeo program scholarships. While most cowboys didn’t make the eight-second ride, Moore said the evening demonstrated the athleticism of both bulls and riders.
“A bull team event with 12 contractors bringing their three best bulls means the caliber is above and beyond what most bull riding in the area is going to showcase,” Moore said. “I haven’t ever doubted the bull power that’s going to be here, but it’s about trying to make a good show, too. I would’ve liked to see a few more cowboys ride, but we have to tip our hats to the animal athletes, as well.”
This year saw Kody Pierce from Keenesburg, Colo., and Wes Wahlert of Galeton, Colo., claim first and second places, respectively — the same cowboys who took first and second at the first Rock ‘n’ Bulls two years ago. Third place was split between 15-year-old Jacob Spencer of Blanco, N.M., and CNCC rodeo team member Brice Osborne of Rifle, Colo.
Three CNCC rodeo teamers also placed in the barrel racing’s top ten, earning the right to compete in Saturday night’s short round: Devon Vondette of Rifle, who earned second in Saturday afternoon’s long round; Brinkley Phillips of Payson, Utah; and Jessalyn Gingrich of Rockford, Mich. Vondette’s older sister C.J. split first place honors in the short round with Deb Wilkins of Vernal, Utah, while Brittaney Moon of Fruita took home firsts in both the long round and average win competitions.
Just one night after the fireworks at Columbine Park, it was time to light fireworks of a more literal kind. Originally slated to run the Fourth of July weekend, the town’s largest fireworks show ever was rescheduled for Labor Day after fire bans canceled displays in many Colorado cities.
“This year, from what I’ve been hearing, it was our best (fireworks) show so far,” WRBM Park Supervisor Billy Estes said. “Last year came close, but we spent more money and had more (rockets) this year….We had some that had smiley faces on the shells, and people were seeing smiley faces in the sky.”
Plenty of those found their way to Facebook, where the response to the display was immediate.
“Amazing fireworks!!!!! Great job!!!” said one post. “Nothing like our fire crew and town setting off the best fireworks we have ever seen,” said another. “Even in the rain they delivered.”
Estes credited the display’s success to the Rangely Rural Fire Protection District (RRFPD), along with the helpers and park and recreation district employees. He also thanked Lester Chappell, Alan Ducey, the Water Users Association, Rodger Polley and the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Department.
“We couldn’t do it without each other,” Estes said. “The firefighters — Andy Shaffer, Mike Cushman, Gary Denny — they’re awesome to work with. It’s every bit as much the fire department as anybody.”
Most events were well-attended, though newer events like the mud bogs and boat race had few entrants. The barbecue, though down in numbers from last year, still fed more than 1,000 people. Dozens of volunteers helped serve the hand-seasoned beef — which took a week, a backhoe, and a specially-built pit and cookers to prepare — along with salads, beans, chips, watermelon and cookies or brownies for $2 per plate.
Another big number event was Monday’s craft fair vendor list, with this year’s 80 booths edging out last year’s 76. It was the fourth year at Septemberfest for Wood Creations vendors Stan and Faye Rowley of Roosevelt, Utah, who sell custom-made semi-truck toys, train sets, children’s furniture and hand-sewn kitchen items.
“We really like Rangely,” Stan Rowley said. “These (fairs) are like a mini-vacation for us. We meet the neatest people — some of these craft people are real close friends of ours. I don’t think anybody gets rich at it, but we have a lot of fun.”
The weekend’s closing event was another new addition to Septemberfest celebrations. Magician Shawn Preston blended comedy and sleight of hand for a nearly-full auditorium at the Rangely Junior-Senior High School.
“I heard it turned out really good,” event sponsor and NAPA Auto Parts owner Brad Casto said. “I was glad it worked out that everybody in the community got to enjoy it.”
Webber emphasized the key component that makes the event’s size and success possible each year.
“I can’t say enough about the people at the rec and park district,” Webber said. “It’s the volunteers and sponsors that make this thing happen. We could do not do this without them.”