Year to year, there are very few changes made to the Elgin Stampede, and what changes do take place are done to improve the event and the rodeo grounds.

It’s a method that is clearly working.

The Stampede enters its 72nd year this week coming off a first, as it was named 2017 Columbia River Circuit Small Rodeo of the Year last year.

“It’s a big deal,” said Ty Hallgarth, who is in his second year as rodeo president. “It’s the first time we’ve ever won it. When we went to the Columbia River Circuit meeting in Yakima they did nothing but brag about it. A lot of cowboys (who participated) bragged about us. They all were really tickled for us. They’re the ones that pushed for us, too.”

Hallgarth said the pace of the rodeo has always been a plus for the Stampede.

“I think the thing that makes our rodeo unique is it happens really fast. (Other rodeos) have a lot going on and they seem to drag out, in my opinion,” he said. “What makes ours better is it happens fast and it leaves people wanting more at the end of the day.”

But Hallgarth and the rodeo board have not been resting on their laurels.

“We’re trying to make something happen every year to make (the Stampede) better instead of doing the same thing every year,” Hallgarth said.

In recent years, those improvements have been in construction on the grounds. That included the construction of a new secretary’s office last year, and a new VIP room ahead of this year’s event. The grandstands were rebuilt in recent years as well.

The new pieces help, but Secretary Lara Moore said the entire product is what led to the Columbia River Circuit accolade.

“I think (the secretary’s office) was only one part of why we won the award. The overall rodeo, contestant numbers, arena footing, etc., are all factors,” she said in an email.

One major change last year was the decision by the Stampede board to co-sanction and allow riders who aren’t in the Columbia River Circuit to take part.

The purpose was simple: “Get more cowboys here so the show is a better show,” Hallgarth said.

It resulted in an increase in riders a year ago, and Hallgarth believes the same will happen this year.

In fact, if projections hold, the Mark Nichols Memorial Bull Riding, the main event Thursday night, could have one of its highest — if not the highest — number of riders ever. Moore said there are 33 bull riders, and the pot that night is more than $14,000.

“We are expecting very strong numbers,” she said.

The action kicks off, as it does annually, with free admission for tonight’s Family Night beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday is the Mark Nichols Memorial Bull Riding, and Friday is the opening of two nights of Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association competition. The three final nights begin at 7 p.m. and tickets cost $16 for adults and $11 for children. Moore said she anticipates roughly 5,000 spectators to take in the rodeo.

It may just now be getting major notoriety, but the rodeo president said he’s always felt the Stampede was among the best around.

Now, there is ground to back that claim up.

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