Carbondale rodeo runs on volunteers: ‘Without them there wouldn’t be a rodeo’
Longtime locals Peter Grange and Steve Turley help lead team of 25 volunteers at Carbondale rodeo
Every Thursday before sundown, the stands at the Gus Darien arena in Carbondale fill with fans, little cowboys and cowgirls excited to experience a local tradition that has been going on for close to two decades.
On hot and dry evenings, dust envelops the massive bulls and their steadfast riders as they burst out of the chutes. During the rainy monsoon season, mud flies from under the hooves of barrel horses and their fearless racers. Whether rain or shine, the rodeo goes on.
The Carbondale rodeo started in 2003 and was revamped into a nonprofit two years later to officially become the Carbondale Wild West Rodeo Association.
“This year is the 17th season, it would be the 18th season but it’s the 17th because of the year we missed in 2020,” Carbondale Wild West Rodeo Board President Mike Kennedy said.
Since day one the rodeo has been volunteer driven with a group of around 25 people who show up weekly to help out; the only people who get paid are judges, stock contractors, announcers and security.
Organizing and directing two dozen volunteers isn’t an easy feat but is done smoothly and enthusiastically weekly by volunteer coordinator Melanie Cardiff.
“They’re pretty much what make it happen; we wouldn’t be able to afford to pay people a reasonable wage to do it,” Kennedy said. “I can’t stress enough how important the volunteers are; without them there wouldn’t be a rodeo every week.”
Steve Turley and Peter Grange are two of the longtime volunteers who have been showing up to the arena every Thursday night to help put on a seamless rodeo for locals and visitors.
Peter Grange has been a cattleman all his life. Born and raised on his family’s 250-acre ranch in Basalt, he couldn’t imagine living and working anywhere else.
“I was literally born on our ranch, so that is home,” he said. “A lot of people look at (the ranch) and say we could sell it for millions of dollars, but the land is special to us.”
His great-grandfather purchased the ranch in 1916, and in 2007, the family put a conservation easement on the land to keep it locked into agriculture.
This year will be Grange’s 13th year of volunteering at the Carbondale rodeo, and he is usually busy moving steers in a constant rotation into the roping box, through the alley way and back into the holding pen. His skill at the rotation means it often goes unnoticed.
“Sometimes I’m like air traffic control,” Grange said. “The way I see it, if I do my job right, nobody will have a second thought that I’m here, because the events move so seamlessly from one to the next.”
Grange recognizes that there are nights when he may have to be a jack-of-all-trades depending on what is needed. As a cattleman, sorting and working with the calves isn’t far from what he does on a daily basis.
“I raise cattle, so having the ability to go in and sort calves off, or if I need to get in there and re-tie the wraps on the horns,” he said. “Some people aren’t used to cattle; I’ll tell them, ‘Oh, don’t worry, they’re not going to bite you if you do it like this.’ I’m just comfortable around the livestock.”
“I mean, I wouldn’t get in the arena with a bull, that’s a different subject,” Grange said with a laugh.
Grange admits that some jobs at the rodeo are more glamorous than others. For instance, the Dally ribbon-roping event requires ribbons to be tied to the tail of the calves.
“So I’m the one that gets to do that, and of course you’re going to have to wash your hands after you’re done, because, as the announcer says, that’s not guacamole,” he said. “As my uncle always told me, it washes off. If you’ve got to get your hands dirty, get your hands dirty.”
Grange is looking forward to getting back out to the rodeo grounds and helping put on a fun event that so many in the community look forward to each week.
“It’s fun to come out here and get to see people I haven’t seen since last year,” he said. “I’m looking forward to helping put on a top notch rodeo.”
Volunteers are always needed at the Carbondale rodeo, and anyone interested in helping is welcomed.
“The rodeo always goes great when we’ve got good volunteers, and we’re always looking for somebody who’s willing to jump in and help,” Grange said.
Steve Turley grew up on a farm in Nebraska and as a little one participated in the Little Britches Rodeo association.
“I grew up in a farm town, was in 4-H, had horses when I was a kid and was always jumping on some calf and riding it,” he said.
He moved to the area 40 years ago during Aspen’s building boom when laborers were getting paid $10 an hour. After working in a factory making pressure gauges at $4.25 an hour, the pay increase was welcomed.
Turley spent some time working as a carpenter and is now a tow truck driver. He also spent 13 years working as a ranch hand helping to take care of horses on a 2,800-acre ranch south of Carbondale that was once owned by Charlie Thomas.
He started volunteering with the Carbondale rodeo 13 years ago.
“The rodeo has been going on for quite a while. but they really started beefing it up about 17 years ago,” he said. “They wanted to shut it down, but some business guys here in Carbondale said, ‘No, let’s get some sponsors and keep it going.'”
Turley started out at the rodeo helping move the steers into the roping box after a volunteer asked if he could lend a hand.
These days Turley is the arena director and can be found helping out with whatever is needed.
“I make sure we have all the volunteers in the right spots that work in the arena,” he said. “I run the roping chute and kind of bounce back and forth to run the gate for the bull riders. Just a little bit of everything,”
On the off days, Turley also helps maintain the pens and chutes and works on whatever maintenance is needed around the rodeo grounds.
Similar to Grange, Turley is looking forward to getting back out to the rodeo grounds and seeing some familiar faces.
“It’s a community thing. You come out here and you know half the people anyway just from being here. A lot of the locals like to come out because it’s a tradition that’s been going on here for years. It’s the western lifestyle,” he said.
Both Grange and Turley agree that one of their favorite things about the rodeo each year is watching the young cowboys and cowgirls grow and excel in their respective events throughout the years.
“A lot of the young kids, the barrel racers, the juniors, they’re so fun to watch. To be out there riding their horse the first two or three nights of the rodeo, and there’s just tears running down their face, and they’re scared. But by the time the rodeo season is over they’re out there getting after it,” Turley said. “Watching them grow like that is pretty satisfying.”
Visual Journalist Chelsea Self can be reached at 970-384-9108 or email@example.com.