HELENA – The broncs and bulls are ready at the East Helena Rodeo Grounds, as the annual rodeo gets underway. The event kicked off Thursday and will run through Sunday.
The East Helena Valley Rodeo Association’s annual event has now been running for 55 years. Ray McGowan has been volunteering for 35 of those years.
“I just decided to come over and give these guys a hand, and it just kind of stuck with me,” he said.
Thursday’s event was the “in-county” competition, specifically for cowboys and cowgirls from Lewis and Clark County. McGowan said they already saw a strong crowd that day.
After each day’s action, the organizers again have to prepare the arena surface.
“With this hot weather and the wind blowing, it dries the ground out pretty quick,” said McGowan. “Last night, we put 10,000 gallons’ worth of water on that arena, and it turned out perfect.”
Friday is “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” Night at the rodeo, so the arena was decorated in pink for breast cancer awareness.
Northern Rodeo Association, or NRA, competitions will be held on Friday and Saturday night. On Sunday, called Family Day, there will be a 406 Rodeo event, featuring youth riders on miniature bucking stock.
East Helena police say the rodeo is one of the biggest events they see every year. This year, the department is partnering with the Montana Highway Patrol and the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff’s Reserves to increase patrols over the weekend. Law enforcement will be looking out for drivers under the influence.
“If you come out to East Helena, have a good time with us at our rodeo,” said acting East Helena police chief William Harrington. “If you plan to have alcohol as part of your weekend, please just be safe and try and find a sober driver.”
The weekend’s events go beyond the rodeo itself. The annual rodeo parade will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. There will also be a car show and street dance in East Helena.
McGowan said every event that brings people into the community is good news for the rodeo. He expects several thousand people to visit East Helena during the rodeo weekend.
“I just tell everybody to come on out and see a good show,” he said.
On Friday and Saturday, the rodeo events will get underway at 7 p.m. On Sunday, the main event will begin at 2 p.m. Tickets will be $6 at the gate.