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Roughrider Commission prepares to say goodbye to DSU rodeo grounds

After 28 years, the Roughrider Days Fair and Expo is on its final ride in the Dickinson State University rodeo grounds.

Justin Olson, Roughrider Commission president, said the events of this year's Fourth of July celebration have so far "pulled off just like they always do" in terms of attracting crowds of revelers to the university campus. Olson said the event's organizers are both "excited and nervous" about leaving the rodeo grounds, which are due to be repurposed for the planned Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, for the brand new Stark County Fairgrounds currently under construction off Highway 22 just south of Dickinson.

"As soon as the fireworks are done on Monday the fourth, we will actually be organizing some volunteers to start tearing down the existing arena at the DSU grounds," he said.

Next year's rodeo will take place in the new fairgrounds' arena, which is expected to be completed this fall. The old DSU rodeo arena will be moved south to serve as a practice space. The Roughrider Days carnival will similarly relocated.

Olson said the location for next year's fireworks display is still an open question.

"We haven't really decided where the fireworks will be, but we believe those should stay in town," he said. "We're hoping to find a new venue to shoot fireworks in city, because we think it should be done there. ... Maybe it'll stay on college grounds, maybe it won't, but we've got a year to figure it out."

While the move to a new facility is cause for excitement, Olson said the final in-town rodeo also provided an emotional moment for members of the commission.

Leon Kristianson, Roughrider Commission rodeo chairman, said he thought it was good to "go bigger and better." Still, after nearly three decades in the location on the DSU campus, Kristianson there had been "a lot of sweat and tears" shed into the old grounds.

"It's been home for us, we've raised our kids up here," he said. " ... (Leaving) never bothered me until this last rodeo was over. Some guys walked by and said, 'Hey, great rodeo, we'll see you at the next one next year.' It finally hit me then that this was the last one. It was kind of a sad one, but it'll be good to get to the next one."

Bob Hughes, a Roughrider Commission current member and past president who now describes himself as the group's "historian," said the fair and expo hadn't yet made it to the DSU rodeo grounds when he joined the organizing group in 1980. At that time, he said, they were held in the Stockmen's Arena on the east side of Dickinson.

When the Schnell family, the owners of the arena, needed the land for other uses, the Roughrider group had to find a new home. By 1984, the organizers arranged for the use of the DSU rodeo grounds.

Hughes said the DSU location had the benefit of a high level of visibility, a trait he said made promoting events there an easier task, but said the new arena looks to be shaping up into a "great" venue.

Even though he looked forward to seeing the fair and expo's new home, Hughes said the years spent working to make the celebration a reality at the college grounds make it a little tougher to say goodbye.

"The first time we did this thing, it was pretty hectic and we didn't know if we'd have a spot the following year," Hughes said. "We had to borrow and get a lot of help to put this thing on, so it was pretty tough for the first couple years, but we kept at it and bought new bleachers, got chutes and so on. It's been a long haul and it's going to be sad to leave that spot."

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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