The familiar sight of cattle trailers and pick-up trucks will once again be streaming into town this week as the Wisconsin River Pro Rodeo returns for its 27th year on Friday evening. For the first time in four years, the event will not have to be concerned with rental bleachers thanks to the recent completion of the new 3,000-seat grandstand and rodeo arena at the new Merrill Festival Grounds. As rodeo vice-president Pete Annis adds, organizers couldn’t be happier.
“We are very excited to have the new grandstand and rodeo arena!,” Annis said. “The new festival grounds is a huge plus to the area. The grandstand is absolutely fantastic, there’s not a bad seat in it. It looks great and what’s even better is that folks will be comfortable and will be able to see the entire show without a problem.”
The two-day event kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday night with “Military Appreciation Night.” The VFW Color Guard will be on-site for the celebration which aims to send five local veterans on the “Never Forgotten Honor Flight.” In accomplishing that goal, $1 from every ticket sold will be donated to the cause, while Brickner’s Park City will be sponsoring four of the five veterans with their annual test drive event. Then at 9 p.m., the Wausau-based band Stray Pony will take the stage at the beer tent.
Saturday’s festivities will get rolling at 1 p.m. with an antique tractor pull followed by the “Tough Enough to Wear Pink” rodeo performance from 6:30-9 p.m. Stray Pony will then return to the stage at the beer tent once again at 9 p.m.
Sunday’s family day begins at 1 p.m. and will allow free admission for all children who participated in the Brickner’s Park City coloring contest, with the purchase for an adult ticket. Sunday’s festivities will wrap up around 3:30 p.m.
“We’re looking forward to another fun weekend,” Annis adds. “Come on down!”
Among the Wisconsin River Pro Rodeo contestants are several with local ties. Friday’s competitors will include Noah Lassa of Merrill in tie down roping. Lassa will be joined by Gleason’s Todd Mattson in team roping. Noah, Adam and Levi Lassa will compete in steer wrestling on Friday as well. Friday’s barrel racing competitors will include Katie Van Der Geest and Karissa Gipple, both of Merrill, and Marissa Wallace, formerly of Merrill, now living in Mondovi.
Saturday’s team roping event will feature Lee Van Der Geest of Merrill.
Two Missouri cowboys, Jeff Butler and Gabe Gwaltney, married into Merrill’s Van Der Geest family. Butler, married to Amy Van Der Geest, will compete in team roping on Saturday and Gwaltney, married to Beth Van Der Geest, will compete in team roping and steer wrestling on Sunday.
Saturday’s barrel racing will include Kristin Van Der Geest, formerly of Merrill, now living in Missouri; and Amy Butler, daughter of Mary Kay Van Der Geest, now living in Missouri.