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Willits Frontier Days board makes hard decision and cancels parade and other annual events to be health code compliant, still hopes to hold October rodeo
Written by Maureen Moore and originally published in Willits Weekly, May 21,2020. Do not reprint without permission.

“Nothing hurts me worse than to not have our regular 4th of July,” said Willits Frontier Days past president and long-time festivities participant Lee Persico. “I’ve been riding in the parade every year since I was 6 months old, that’s 84 years. But this year, it’s just going to have to be different.”

Persico shares sentiments with the entire Willits Frontier Days board who had to make the hard decision last week at their May board meeting to go ahead and cancel the parade, hometown celebration, horse show, carnival, anthem contest and other usual activities in order to remain compliant with the health codes and local, state and federal guidelines.

The rodeo, however, has been officially postponed, allowing the group to hope things change enough in 2020 to allow the Ranch Rodeo event, usually held in October, to take place, and therefore keeping the coveted “Longest Continuous Running Rodeo in California” title accurate.

“This is not what any of us want, or wanted to have to do,” said Marcy Barry, current Willits Frontier Days vice president. “But we have to. We have to remain compliant under the order, and we will not jeopardize our future events, the use of the grounds, or our ability to get insurance or permits to try and force this to happen this year. It’s a real bummer, but it is just what we have to do.”

Ignoring the in-place orders and guidelines could put the future of the events entirely at risk. No agency is going to go along with disobeying the orders, and without issuance of a Caltrans permit to close the road, or ABC license to serve alcohol, or general liability insurance for the grounds, and staff, spectator and contestant safety, Willits Frontier Days could be sued into oblivion for any number of probable problems … and that’s just not wise or reasonable.

“It’s not just Willits who is experiencing these event cancellations,” reminded Persico. “This event is a massive draw for people all around the state and country, and bringing them here to all be close to one another during this time is irresponsible. There’s not even motel rooms available for people to stay in if they did come, they’re closed too. I am a part of several horseback trail riding groups who are out in the open, camp out, don’t see others for days on end, and even those events are being cancelled.”

Persico went on to point out how all of the other state rodeos, events, and fairs have also been cancelled for several of the same concerns shared by the board of Willits Frontier Days.

“The Olympics have even postponed,” said Persico. “It would be pound wise and penny foolish to buck the system and try and hold an event during this time. The potential for someone to come here, get people sick, and the lawsuits that would follow made the board have no choice but to reluctantly take this hard position. No other big events are being put on – people need to pay attention to what’s going on elsewhere and realize that this is for the best interest of all involved.”

“We want to do what we can to get the community open as fast as we can,” said Barry. “Part of this is cancelling this year’s 4th of July events. We were very careful to say ‘postpone’ as far as the rodeo was concerned, however, we all want to ensure our title remains for the longest rodeo, but we just can’t hold the rest of the events at this time.”

In the highly unlikely event that things somehow drastically change come July 4, and everyone will be able to congregate without restrictions, the amount of advance planning needed to take place to put all 17 Willits Frontier Days events together is impossible at the last minute. A decision had to be made now.

Forging ahead and being charged for insurance policies, agreements with stock contractors, purses for the rodeo events, ordering buckles, a Sweetheart saddle, printing a program, buying radio time, not to mention mundane things like securing port-a-potties and dumpsters, all takes money that would not be recouped without an event.

“It would be like writing a check and throwing it into the wind,” said Persico. “It would be a huge waste and hit to the bank account, especially without alcohol sales at or ticket sales in advance of the events.”

The actual 4th of July isn’t cancelled, remember. This year will just involve a different way to celebrate the holiday. Have a barbecue at your home. Visit the cemeteries and learn about the veterans who lived in the area and served our country. Make a donation to the American Legion. Make a video to stream of your family raising an American flag and saying the Pledge of Allegiance in unison. Send off your voter registration card. Bake an apple pie.

We can all get through this as a community. It’s a strange year. True. But if we can all please take a breath, calm down, be nice to one another, do what’s asked of us and try and follow the rules, hopefully it will all be over sooner than it would have been able to be otherwise ... and that’s really what’s everyone wants.



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