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Commission: More helpers wanted: Roughrider Days Fair and Expo grows with need for volunteers

Press Photo by Nadya Faulx Volunteers set up at the Dickinson State University Outdoor Arena Wednesday ahead of the kick-off of the Roughrider Days Fair and Expo. The event spans eight days this year, putting a strain on the Roughrider Commission and volunteers.

The Roughrider Days Fair and Expo started small, only lasting three days.

The first fair, in 1970, was just a rodeo, a parade and the demolition derby.

This year, the expo — which kicks off Friday night with the PRCA rodeo and closes with a fireworks show July 4 — spans eight days, not to mention the youth rodeo and the five-day carnival earlier this month.

The lineup of events includes 4-H shows, the KDIX & Hollis Dietz run/walk and a concert featuring Eagles and Beach Boys tribute bands.

“The core of Roughrider Days is still the rodeo and the fireworks and the demo derby,” said Bob Hughes, a member of the Roughrider Commission since 1980. “It’s just been a lot of things that changed.”

Dickinson’s annual Independence Day celebration has grown with the city, and like the city, the Roughrider Days Fair and Expo is facing some challenges keeping up with the new demands.

“We do have a lot more people in town, but not a lot more people on the commission,” said secretary Lori Vernon. “The concert and the rodeo and the parade and all the areas we need to man — it adds up to quite a large number that’s needed.”

Vernon, who has volunteered with the Roughrider Commission since 1985, estimates the 18-member group has about 20 to 25 additional volunteers to help out with event management, but needs more.

The commission is strapped for volunteers, particularly for the expanded parade that will pass through downtown Saturday, where organizers will have to close intersections off to traffic and control crowds.

Dickinson Police will have about a dozen officers helping out at the parade, Capt. Dave Wilkie said, with commission volunteers and barricades filling out the rest of the ranks.

“We’re very fortunate to have people that do help us, but everybody’s time is so limited anymore,” Vernon said. “Closer to the Fourth, it’s harder for people to give up their plans. They’d rather participate with their families, and I don’t blame them for that.”

But with attendance at this year’s parade expected at more than 16,000 people and more newcomers arriving in Dickinson all the time, the commission knows it will have to recruit newer, younger volunteers to help out — and keep the expo fresh.

“They gotta get young blood in there,” said Gary Conlon, who volunteered for the group for 30 years before resigning last year. “They’re always looking for new faces. Maybe there’s new ideas in those new faces.”

Conlon said he isn’t sure the younger generation will commit to the time it takes to get the event off the ground.

The commission starts planning each fair and expo nearly a year in advance, almost directly after the previous year’s fair has come to a close. Musical artists are typically booked by December or January and rodeo contracts are signed as early as November and December.

There is plenty to do that people don’t think about, such as cleaning up the arena, painting boards, fixing bucking chutes, and setting up the little things.

“It doesn’t just happen,” Conlon said. “It’s almost another job.”

Hughes said that with “only so much time and money to go around,” arranging the event and recruiting volunteers would be easier if the expo could be condensed into one weekend, but a moving target of July 4 makes planning difficult.

“I wish it was closer together,” he said. “It just didn’t work out.”

Planning and staffing an eight-day expo is “demanding” on time taken away from business and family, but Hughes said the commission and volunteers are dedicated.

“I guess the reason I’ve done it for so many years is to see that people are having a good time,” he said. “We create a celebration to get people here and keep people here.”

And with just a couple of days left before the expo starts, there’s more work to be done, Hughes added..