The Three Forks Rodeo Board is looking for a little help for their "Bleacher Backer" project.
The project is a result of the Three Forks City Council in January giving the approval to the board to purchase ADA accessible grandstand seating with funding coming from cash reserves, grants, loan proceeds and private fundraising.
According to City Officials, the total cost is $532,264. The initial goal of private fundraising was $110,000 but has since been modified to $120,00. According to Rodeo Board Chair Chuck Wambeke, they are approaching $50,000 of that goal.
The history of the bleachers' project dates back to a 2003 Rodeo Board Report to City Council that identified replacement as a critical need for the facility due to the age of structures.
Wambeke said in 2004 the board took on an aggressive project of replacing all of the wood that was moved to the arena from the Montana State University Fieldhouse in 1980.
"Since then the Rodeo Board has been maintaining and replacing wood as needed annually while saving cash to allow this project to proceed. After the 2017 season, the Rodeo Board met with the City Council to revisit a replacement project and were given the authorization to put a plan together. After the 2018 season, the Board felt that significant funds had been saved and began the project in earnest, starting with the engineering. Since that time the Board has worked with the Council to develop the scope of the project and proceed with the procurement and installation," Wambeke said.
As far as a goal, Wambeke, and the board see the project as a way to provide safe, ADA accessible seating for fans and increasing the seating capacity above 2500.
Prior to this project, the seating capacity was approximately 2,000 and according to Wambecke, the attendance the past two years was approaching 2,600. He added with the new set they will have a total seating capacity of 2,800 with full ADA access from parking to seating.
Looking towards the final project, Wambeke noted the upgrade is not only huge for the annual NRA Rodeo in July, but also a huge economic boon to the local community.
"The Rodeo Board is super excited to see these stands fill up with spectators and I think our crowd of annual attendees will be grateful that this goal has finally been achieved," he said.
Prior to the onset of COVID-19, Wambecke said the board was working with the Council to define the final scope of the project.
"The Board and Council stuck our necks out to make the project a little bigger, hence the need for donations, not knowing what was to come a month later. When the Covid-19 Pandemic hit, our donations screeched to a halt due to the sudden uncertainty and the federal funding agency we are hoping to use has still not processed our loan," he said. "So right now, our project is caught up in this storm of events and the Board is diligently working with the Council to develop a fallback plan should the planned funding agency not come through."
In the past, Wambeke added the Three Forks Rodeo Arena has been self-sufficient and received not tax dollars to fund operations or improvement.
"In the last 25 years the Rodeo Board has reinvested hundreds of thousands of dollars back into the facility from the revenue generated annually and still managed to squirrel away enough money to make this project happen," he said.
With $70,000 still needed in private funding, the board is asking community members to participate.
"Rodeo Weekend is the biggest weekend of the year here in Three Forks and many of our local businesses rely on the income they generate that weekend to make it through the year. As we all know this year has been extra hard on our local restaurants and saloons making it difficult for the business to pony up funds for this project. We need the financial support of individuals," he said. "The Rodeo Board and the business community appreciates any and all contributions and we extend our sincere thanks to the community at large and to the City Council for their support."
To donate please visit City Hall or go online to https://www.threeforksrodeo.com/bleacher-backer-fundraiser/
Editor's Note: The 2020 Three Forks NRA Rodeo has been postponed to August 28 and 29.