Despite orders to limit crowds, the stands remained full or nearly full for the three days of the 65th annual North Star Stampede Rodeo in Effie in northern Minnesota.
Thousands showed up to what is known as the state’s largest outdoor rodeo even though the Minnesota Department of Health and the state Attorney General’s Office imposed a spectator limit at the event.
The most recent phase of Gov. Tim Walz’s Stay Safe Minnesota Plan limits outdoor events and entertainment to 250 people who are social distanced.
The rodeo’s attendees were spurred on by a Facebook post last week from the event’s organizer.
Cimarron Pitzen, whose family has hosted the rodeo since 1955, wrote that the stampede would take place without official spectators. “If people would like to come and protest against this ridiculous Government Over Reach, feel free to do so, I will not stand in the way of peoples ‘Right to Assemble.’ ”
Pitzen and the Itasca County Sheriff’s Office did not return messages from the Star Tribune on Sunday.
Pitzen didn’t collect the normal admission fees to watch the rodeo’s events, said Billy Hampton, a saddle bronc rider from White Bear Lake. Hampton has participated in the Effie rodeo for five years and said this one felt much the same, though he thinks the weekend brought in even more people than usual. Pitzen had restrictions about how many people could gather behind the chutes, and some of the protesters were practicing social distancing, Hampton said, but he didn’t see many face masks.
“It felt like normal for once,” he said. “It really didn’t feel like other places in the state.”
Gerri Podrug, a rodeo photographer, said most of the rodeos she’d planned to attend this year were canceled. The weather in Effie was rainy and muddy, but the weekend was a fun one, she said.
“There was obviously a slightly different twist this year, but this was still our rodeo and a celebration of its 65 years,” she said.
Podrug said she saw all ages in the crowd and some people carried signs, including ones supporting President Donald Trump.
“The spectators were turned into protesters in a way,” Podrug said. “But we didn’t want to be the center of attention. We just wanted the 65th year to be the best rodeo ever.”
Neither Hampton nor Podrug heard of any issues between the crowd and law enforcement.
“Everything was civil and people were smiling and joyful,” Podrug said.