South central Montana, just north of Yellowstone National Park, was devastated by historic flooding mid-June. With a large portion of their summer tourism hampered by the temporary closing of the Park’s north most entrances, towns like Red Lodge, Montana, are hoping their annual Fourth of July ProRodeo will help fill the void.
“We’ve adopted the motto, ‘Come Hell or High Water,’ because of the drought, fires and flood,” said Stacie Nardinger, Communications Director for Red Lodge Rodeo.
The 92nd Annual Home of Champions Rodeo is scheduled for July 1-5. The Red Lodge Rodeo adopted the Home of Champions moniker after local hand Bill Linderman won his third all-around world championship in 1954.
“They’re not shutting our rodeo down no matter what!” she added. “COVID is about the only thing that got us. This is stuff we can get through.”
On Monday evening June 13, Nardinger went down to a bridge over Rock Creek, which flows from the Beartooth Mountains down through the east side of Red Lodge, to listen to sounds of the spring snowmelt.
“They tell you that you can hear the rocks rumble in Rock Creek during the spring runoff,” said Nardinger. “We went up to check it out. It’s true. You can hear the rocks rolling. It was pretty angry as far as the melt.”
What few realized was a historic 500-year flood was in the making. The snow melt and above normal precipitation coupled with mountainsides covered in deadfall and barren of water absorbing vegetation from the fires the year before sent debris-fill rapids down through valleys below.
“We had lots of precipitation and that led to washouts from the fires last year,” she said. “You had all that debris washing down into Rock Creek.”
Log jams took out bridges all along Rock Creek. The log jam at the Highway 308 Bridge caused flooding in town.
“The water came up and over that bridge and washed it out,” Nardinger explained. “That water had nowhere to go and it flooded the east side of Red Lodge. The log jams were really the biggest problems for us because it left so much debris and rerouted so much water, so much water.”
Surrounding areas weren’t unscathed. The Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River flooded agricultural areas to the east of Red Lodge from Wyoming in the south all the way to Laurel, Montana, in the north. It’s estimated that 105 homes were lost around the tiny town of Fromberg, population 400.
To the north and west of Red Lodge, raging waters of the Stillwater River took out roads and bridges through Nyes and Absarokee.
Further west, the Yellowstone River broke 100-year flood records leaving parts of Columbus and Livingston flooded. Paradise Valley from Livingston south toward Gardner and the North Entrance of Yellowstone Park suffered heavy damage to roads and bridges as well.
The 411 on the Gateways
92nd Home Of Champions Rodeo, July 1-4, Red Lodge, Montana
Home of Champions - 101 Rodeo Drive
WPRA Roping Division 7/1/22 @ 6 pm with Xtreme Bulls Event
Slack: July 1 @ 9 am
Stock Contractor: Brookman Rodeo
Breakaway Added Money: $5,000, limited to 100 entries
Barrel Racing: Three performances July 2-3 @ 6 pm; July 4 @ 3 pm
Barrel Racing Added Money: $7,000
Tractor Drag after 6
2021 Barrel Racing Champion: Jordon Briggs & Famous Lil Jet "Rollo," 17.310, $4,126.60
No Breakaway in 2021
94th Livingston Roundup, July 2-4, Livingston, Montana
Park County Fairgrounds - 46 View Vista Drive
Barrel Racing: Three performances July 2-4 @ 8 am
Slack: July 4 @ 11 am
Added Money: $14,500
NFR Playoff Series
Stock Contractor: Silver Creek Rodeo Co.
2021 Barrel Racing Champion: Hailey Kinsel & DM Sissy Hayday "Sis," 17.090, $7,200.40
103rd Cody Stampede, July 1-4, Cody, Wyoming
Stampede Park - 519 West Yellowstone
Four performances July 1-3 @ 8 pm; July 4 @ 5 pm
Slack: July 3 @ 8 am
NFR Playoff Series (Barrels & Breakaway Roping)
Added Money: $25,000, limited to 150 entries
Breakaway Roping: $7,500, limited to 100
Stock Contractor: Frontier Rodeo
2021 Barrel Racing Champion: Emily Miller-Beisel & Namgis D 33 "Chongo," 17.030, $10,123.80
2021 Breakaway Roping Champion: Jayme Marcrum, 2.00, $3,788.20
Gateway To The Amazing
The three Fourth of July Rodeos surrounding Yellowstone National Park—the Cody Stampede in Wyoming, the Home of Champions in Red Lodge and the Livingston Roundup in Montana—are affectionately known by contestants as the Gateway Rodeos for their proximity to the park entrances.
As some of the richest rodeos over the Fourth, they’re also a gateway for many trips to the National Finals Rodeo. This year, especially for Red Lodge and Livingston, they’re a gateway to recovery.
With the northern portion of Yellowstone closed to visitors, Gateway Rodeos are more important than ever.
In record time, the roads and bridges were repaired. Businesses cleaned and reopened.
In Red Lodge, the rodeo committee also spent some of their weekend workdays helping out residents in flooded areas. They filled dumpsters provided by Doug and Dee Mathis’ D&D Dumpster Rentals. Doug Mathis is the announcer for the Red Lodge Rodeo.
The flooding hadn’t even subsided in the region when the Red Lodge Rodeo committee announced their event proudly was a go.
“Everything is a go,” said Nardinger. “Everything is open. All access points are open. Businesses are open. The restaurants are open. The campgrounds are open. We have one hotel that’s still down, but everything else is up and running. They’re doing everything they can to accommodate the rodeo and our other summer events.”
In Red Lodge with the breathtaking Beartooth Pass closed as well, the rodeo is everything to the humble town of 2,300 residents.
“The rodeo is so big for the businesses and tourists because they’re not stopping to go over the pass and into the park,” said Nardinger. “It’s really important that the rodeo go on because it’s the lifeblood of the town right now.”