“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:11
BY D. REED ECKHARDT
It is time for Cheyenne to grow up.
That’s what came to my mind as I stood in front of the newly renovated State Capitol and looked south toward the Cheyenne Union Pacific Depot. Yes, the Cheyenne Frontier Days
signs are up on the lamp posts, and the streets are festooned with flags, “Welcome to Cheyenne Frontier Days.”
|The Frontier Days trappings are up in downtown Cheyenne.|
But friends, whether you love CFD or not – after 20 years here, I am wellover it – it is past time that this annual event loosen its grip on city leadership and lose the top-of-mind awareness that is holding the Capital City back.
This is 2019, people, not 1919 or 1867, when Fort D.A. Russell was founded. In case you haven’t noticed, American culture has moved well past cowboy hats and cattle. So this annual orgy of Western bull crap that dominates the local mindset needs to move into the background so modern ideas can lead this city into the future.
Certainly CFD is a local economic driver, creating an estimated $27.1 million in revenue each year (https://www.cfdrodeo.com/2019/01/cfd-releases-updated-economic-impact-study/). But that doesn’t mean it should demand to be front and center any longer.
Consider this: Cheyenne had a $5.754 billioneconomy in 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. (https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/NGMP16940) That means less than 5 percentof the economic output of Cheyenne is created by CFD.
Cheyenne has got to stop thinking that CFD – and cowboy culture – will drive its future because it will not. If anything, CFD will contribute less and less to the overall economy over time as other industries and sectors continue to grow.
Perhaps the biggest problem with CFD commanding so much attention is that it forces Cheyenne’s leadership to look backward, into the past, rather than toward a vibrant future in which cowboys and rodeo will be just a small slice of what Cheyenne offers, not the whole pie.
Look southward toward Greeley, Colo. It offers the Greeley Stampede, which is wrapping up its annual run this weekend. That event has the same menu of offerings that CFD does, a rodeo, night shows, all the other trappings.
But Greeley is not a cowboy town, and it doesn’t want to be. Its leadership sees that what is happening along the Colorado Front Range – Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver – is where the future lies. The Stampede is just one of the community’s many offerings – have you ever been to the Greeley Blues Festival? – not the be all and end all of what it is about.
This is where CFD hurts Cheyenne the most. When you travel up and down Interstate 25, you see ads for Greeley. They talk about its university, its attractions, its festivals. Even its theme, “Greeley Unexpected” (https://greeleyunexpected.com), focuses on the community as an exciting, vibrant place to be. The first website image? A downtown concert with hundreds of young people looking on.
Now go to Visit Cheyenne (https://www.cheyenne.org) and what is the first thing that smacks you in the face? Frontier Days. Then the slogan: “Live the Legend.” That says everything about where this city is looking – and it isn’t toward the future.
Indeed, discuss this with local tourism leaders and they will tell you that they haveto market Cheyenne’s cowboy culture. That is why people come here, they say. But they are perpetuating a false image of this city and are holding it back. People who stop in at Cheyenne to buy a cowboy hat and a belt buckle are missing out on so much more – the outdoor culture, the growing arts scene, downtown festivals, the trains and events on the Plaza. If all that Americans know about Cheyenne is CFD and cowboys, then there is little incentive for businesses and their employees to move here.
Yes, tourism officials do mention all these other Cheyenne things, but those always are pushed into the background by Frontier Days. And CFD always gets first nods on public support. There is money for added city security for the event, but none to develop the Belvoir Ranch, which has the potential for being an outdoors tourism mecca.
And that would attract the tourists of the future: young people who want to enjoy the outdoors. The pool of cowboy culture tourists is aging out. Most young people couldn’t give
a pile of horse droppings about cowboys and rodeos. If they equate Cheyenne with cowboy culture, this city will continue to stagnate.
|The Hispanic Festival is a great Cheyenne event.|
It is past time for Cheyenne to stop acting like a child playing with toys – CFD, cowboys, rodeos, country music – and find its way into the future. Frontier Days needs to step back, to been seen as one of this community’s many offerings, not its sole reason for existence.
One place to start: change the slogan. Rather than “Live the Legend” and its backward glance to a dead past, why not “Where the Legend Lives”? That then could incorporate all of the other great
things that Cheyenne has to offer going forward. Perhaps the city then could see itself, and be seen, as a place where young generations come to live rather than where older folks stop to briefly visit on their way to places like Yellowstone National Park.
Yes, this will take a change in mindset and, perhaps in the short term, a decline in cowboy-related revenues. But it is time to take a longer term view about Cheyenne and its future.
You can continue milking this one old, drying up cow known as Frontier Days or you can make it part of a dairy farm with many cows providing many different streams of milk. Which do you think will better help Cheyenne grow into the future?
D. Reed Eckhardt is the former editor of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.