Members of the Arena Coop Board of Directors are from left to right: Dan Delozier, County Commissioner District 1; Louie Gardner, Owner Utility Cable Company/Mid-Town Rental; Tanya Andrews, Claremore Expo & Tourism Development; Jim Thomas, Claremore City Manager; and David Petty, Stampede Rodeo Chairman.

Rogers County’s third longest-running event, the Will Rogers Stampede PRCA Rodeo, will soon celebrate 72 years. The Stampede was recently named 2017’s Best Small Rodeo in America by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) for the fourth year in a row. There has never been a rodeo to receive this distinguished honor in Oklahoma four years in a row.

A great family fun event that started in 1946 and is a Claremore tradition, the Stampede runs solely on support of its sponsors and spectators, leaving no funding source for grounds improvement. “Because the property was privately owned, neither the city nor the county could offer assistance through their respective agencies,” said Tanya Andrews, director of Visit Claremore. “Contestants, their families, and spectators come from all over the US to compete and enjoy this cultural-rich event. We can all agree the grounds need some improvements and without funding or man power, it will continue to deteriorate. We want our residents and visitors to enjoy a great event and be proud of the grounds in which it was built on.”

After the announcement in December 2016 that the Stampede won Best Small Rodeo in America three years in a row, a group of community leaders started a discussion with the Will Rogers Round Up Club about their goals, needs and how to achieve them. The club relies on membership dues from the 150 plus members, but that barely covers the utilities, trash service, and still would not be enough for a paid staff member that could oversee the regular grounds keeping and maintenance of the property.

Further discussion brought the Oklahoma Attorney General’s approval of the Rodeo Arena Interlocal Cooperative, known as the Arena Coop. With the AG’s approval, the Arena Coop is a legal entity and a partnership between the City of Claremore and the Rogers County Board of Commissioners. After the approval, a five-member board was formed with one representative from the Claremore Public Works Authority, Jim Thomas; one from the City of Claremore, Tanya Andrews; a representative from the BOCC, Dan Delozier; another county representative, long time rodeo supporter and citizen of Rogers County, Louie Gardner; and a member from the Will Rogers Round Up Club, past president and Rodeo Chairman, David Petty.

The Arena Coop is governed by its bylaws and worked with the Round-Up Club to set goals for infrastructure needs. In order for the group to have full access to the property and contribute in-kind services and equipment or funds from both the city and the county, the Round-Up Club donated the grounds to the Arena Coop. Now that it’s  the legal owner, the coop has set priorities and goals for the next two to three years.

“The immediate needs are grounds keeping and basic clean-up,” said Dan Delozier. “Trees need to be trimmed, dead trees need to be removed, trash needs to be picked up, and a new parking lot and parking areas need to be reviewed. Steps are in place to start with these immediately before this year’s Stampede coming in May,” said Delozier.

“General groundskeeping such as mowing, weed eating, and daily oversight will be performed by the Lake Rangers and the City’s Park and Recreation Department,” said Jim Thomas, chairman of the Arena Coop. “Joe Kays and his crews do an outstanding job at keeping the Lake Park pristine, as they will with the rodeo grounds. Our residents, visitors and competitors will enjoy a park-like setting for this year’s event.”

“Our vision goes beyond the surface or what the eye can see,” said Louie Gardner, Vice-Chair of the Arena Coop. “The annexation into the city limits allows for the elimination of three septic systems and allows the tie-in to the city’s sewer system as it is being developed for new public restrooms at the lake. Surveys are in the works with hopes of designing, launching, and completion of the project in time for this year’s Stampede. We have a list of projects and have prioritized them, for the next few years, but these are just a few we hope to accomplish by Memorial weekend,” said Gardner.

The rodeo committee is preparing for the 72nd Will Rogers Stampede PRCA Rodeo, and continues to work with the Arena Coop on future plans for the property. “Our group and club members are volunteers; we all have families and jobs, but we have and will continue to contribute as much time as we can to the annual event,” said David Petty, past-president of the Round-Up Club and Co-Chair of this year’s rodeo committee. “Just like other non-profit organizations, our long-time members are dwindling, their time is precious and without a funding source there are no funds or man power for these necessary improvements to the property. The community, our business leaders and partners, and our contestants make the rodeo award-winning,” said Petty. “We will continue to provide a high-quality, family-friendly event and strive to be one of the PRCA’s top award-winning rodeos.

Jim Thomas shares, “The mission of the Arena Coop is to sustain the property so the Will Rogers Round Up Club can produce and sustain the annual Stampede and ensure it reaches its centennial in 2046. We are looking forward to the start of our first few projects and want to ensure the community will be proud of the outcome of these improvements.”