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2022 sets records for the National High School Finals Rodeo in Gillette

A saddle bronc rider competes at the National High School Finals Rodeo in Gillette.
A saddle bronc rider competes at the National High School Finals Rodeo in Gillette.

The National High School Finals Rodeo (NHSFR) is wrapping up its week-long competition at the Cam-Plex facilities in Gillette as it concludes its largest event there to date. Gillette, in addition to Rock Springs, are the only two cities in Wyoming that have hosted the rodeo, which travels to venues across the country.

Initially, there were questions as to how many people would attend due to higher fuel costs and the rise of inflation. But if any doubt persisted, it was gone once the rodeo got underway.

“This is the biggest rodeo they’ve ever brought to Gillette,” said Darin Edmonds, of the Campbell County Public Land Board, which oversees the Cam-Plex. “A record number of contestants, horses, and it has always been the biggest event that Cam-Plex has produced, so we assume that’s going to translate into spectators and vendors. If there’s more of something, usually there’s more of everything.”

Competitors from across the U.S. and some international athletes regularly participate in the finals events each year. There are also over 2,000 horses this year, which is also a record. More than 12,000 visitors are expected to have attended. 1,716 competitors showed up with only four not checking in this year.

Sponsors, judges, vendors, and contractors also add to the number of people that come through Gillette and Campbell County for the festivities. Over a thousand volunteers assist in an attempt to have a well-run event, which include staffing for security and tickets, among others.

“I think one of the things that makes this event so special to Gillette is these people are from all over the country,” Edmonds said. [There are] three countries [represented] here: Mexico, Canada, the United States, and everybody is so nice and polite and grateful. They like coming to Gillette because it’s the only place that hosts the rodeo where everybody can stay on campus together at the same time. No other site in the country can accommodate all of the camping requirements. The Cam-Plex is the only place that can do that.”

But while Gillette will again host the NHSFR next year and in 2028 and 2029, it may not be a long-term destination. Earlier this year, rodeo officials stated they’re going to require enclosed, climate-controlled facilities for the annual event beginning in 2030. Currently, the Cam-Plex doesn’t offer these kinds of facilities.

“We intend to roll that into a comprehensive master plan for Cam-Plex,” Edmonds explained. We [would] work through our budget process, we've gone out for requests for qualifications and proposals for a master planning consultant.”

There’s no guarantee that a new or modified facility that meets the NHSFR’s needs would be able to attract it after 2030. Edmonds said it’s a question that will likely be posed to Campbell County voters in a forthcoming election.

“Before we asked voters or sponsors for loans, or whatever it is, of how it's going to get paid for, you got to know what you're building, where it's going to set, what it's going to cost, [what] it's going to need in in some degree of detail, and then it's more than likely going to have to go before the voters just based on the cost in 2024,” he said. “That's kind of the timeline that I think everybody's got their eye on right now.”

The NHSFR has indicated that it would be willing to sign a long-term contract with a venue that meets its requirements. In addition to adding to the local and state economy, hosting the rodeo is a source of pride for the community.

“It's been a generation basically, which is a long time [and] that's a big tradition for any community, and you kind of just forget, you just know it's [a] rodeo year,” Edmonds said. “And everybody here knows what that means because it's so ingrained into the culture of our county. It's not like a first-time event where you got to tell people what it is. Everybody, when you say rodeo is coming, they know what you're talking about.”

The rodeo finishes up on Jul. 23 when national champions in each event will be determined.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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