Grab your cowboy hat, saddle up, and hold on tight. The spurs-and-Wranglers-clad cowboys and cowgirls of the Great Lakes Rodeo, an annual non-profit event in Marquette, MI, are about to stir up some serious dust, and it’s all in the name of a great cause: raising money for local youth organizations.
How, you might ask, did the Wild West come to a Lake Superior port town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula? After all, Marquette’s northern landscape and culture seems a long distance from the cattle ranches on golden prairies that stretch across states such as Wyoming and Texas, where cattle herders have lived and worked for generations, helping to inspire the modern sport of rodeo in the United States.
Jesie Melchiori, one of the founders of the Great Lakes Rodeo, now in its seventh year, told me the inspiring tale of how this unlikely event came to a Northern Michigan community. “We were all sitting around the kitchen table, talking about how the bad state of the economy was affecting children in Marquette, and we decided we could raise money and have a lot of fun by starting a rodeo right here in our own backyard.” And that’s exactly what they did. The rodeo has grown to an annual attendance of 2500 people, and to date, the rodeo has raised over $13,000 for organizations such as preschools, 4-H Clubs, The Salvation Army, and Child and Family Services. Any area youth program or organization can apply to receive a grant from the rodeo’s proceeds.
The event, which takes place June 15-17, 2012, is an “open rodeo,” meaning that anyone can compete in the professional events. These include bull riding, saddle bronc, bareback bronc, barrels, and team roping. But the experience of attending a rodeo is about much more than just the spectacle of these main events. Highlights of this weekend-long event include the Rodeo Queen and Court competition, which crowns a Rodeo Queen, Princess, and Lil’ Miss, as well as Saturday night’s Barn Dance where participants and attendees can kick up the heels of those dusty cowboy boots.
Entertainment abounds during the rodeo performances, which includes laughs made by Sheppy the Rodeo Clown and my personal favorite, mutton busting, where running sheep are released into the arena and ridden by children dressed as miniature cowboys and cowgirls. On Sunday, rodeo participants and attendees are encouraged to wear pink shirts to show support for breast cancer awareness, demonstrating yet another way that the Great Lakes Rodeo gives back to its community. Melchiori describes the overall experience of the rodeo as “affordable family fun that’s action packed with edge-of-your-seat entertainment that raises funds for a great cause.”
The Great Lakes Rodeo offers on-site camping as well as rentable stalls, for those who wish to bring their horse, with plenty of lodging also available in the city of Marquette. If you have a few extra days in the area, be sure to take some time to swim and sunbathe at Marquette’s beautiful beaches, have a picnic at Presque Isle Park, take a scenic hike, and the visit the Marquette County History Museum. If you have time after that, don’t miss Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a dramatic scene of rocky cliffs plunging into the turquoise waters of Lake Superior, located about seventy miles east of Marquette.
The Great Lakes Rodeo offers a unique cultural experience right here in Michigan’s spectacular Upper Peninsula. Here, friends are made, entertainment abounds, and funds are raised to support a great cause, making these cowboys (and cowgirls) true American heroes.
–Ariana Hendrix, Feature Writer