Eagle County Fair & Rodeo

Then + Now

What began in 1939 as a hometown fair with local contestants, the Eagle County Fair & Rodeo now hosts world champion competitors. Originally held on the grounds of the Eagle School, where the county administration building is today, hundreds of people flocked to Eagle to experience what would begin the beloved tradition of 81 years.

During the early years of the county fair, the organizers began teaming up with 4-H, a non-profit organization, to host exhibit competitions and exhibits by local ranchers. Jenny Leonetti, who was born and raised in Eagle County, has been a 4-H agent assisting with the fair for 15 years. Leonetti spent her childhood visiting the fair with her grandpa who was a cattle rancher in Eagle County. It’s been interesting to watch the progression, because my grandma was in 4-H, and she was born in 1920,” says Leonetti.

In addition to the exhibit competitions in the early years of the fair, community members were encouraged to participate by exhibiting their canned fruits and vegetables, pastries, needlework and preserves. Before the rodeo was added to the event, additional fair entertainment included a football game between the Minturn and Eagle high school teams, concerts, movies and a free lunch. The organizers even hosted a dance to continue the entertainment into the evening.

Photo by Robby Freeman

Although the fair was beginning to grow in the early 1940s, most of the young men in Eagle County were being drafted or signing up to join military service, causing a shortage of farm labor and leather and rubber production. This labor shortage made it difficult for ranchers to continue their operations. At this time, there was no mention of the county fair in the local newspapers, but the organizers of the event did not give up.

By 1950, the fair was back and even more successful than before when local businesses began participating by setting up commercial booths to display their products. After the large number of exhibits continued to grow, the fair was forced to relocate to a larger space in Gypsum where it would be held in 1952. This was the only year that the event was held outside of Eagle. The next year, the event made its way back to Eagle on a portion of the Mayer Ranch for seven years. After the ranch was sold, the county fair moved into its new home on 15-acres of land on the Eagle River. The community came together and local volunteers combined their efforts and moved the livestock barn, in sections, to the new location.

"The generosity that has poured out in the auction is just humbling, because we have one of the best auctions in Colorado all thanks to our business owners, individuals and buyers that come out." Leonetti

Grandstands were built, and the historical exhibits would be displayed in a new all-steel building. After the exhibit hall gained electricity in 1964, the event space now included lighting, cooking ranges and refrigerators, offering even more experiences for its visitors. Confident in the events success, the county purchased a 145-acre tract of land in 1986 for future growth. At this time, the junior livestock auction was the main attraction and is still a crowd favorite in the event today.

By 1999, the new grandstands in the rodeo arena could seat 2,650 spectators. This exciting addition allowed even more devoted visitors to attend. In 2006, the 45,000 square foot Eagle River Center was built, where the community now hosts events, trade shows, fairs and tournaments.

“When my grandma was in 4-H, they showed their livestock at what is now the Eagle County building in the town park,” Leonetti explains. “So, seeing that progress to the very enjoyable and successful Eagle River Center, where the kids show now, is just interesting to see how the facilities have grown.”

Today’s Eagle County Fair & Rodeo offers multiple merchandise and food vendors, an auction, a junior livestock sale, concerts, a carnival, a sponsor dinner and more. Tanya Dahlseid, who manages the rodeo, has been part of the event for 20 years.

“You can come onto our grounds and go to the carnival, you can walk around to see the vendors, you can go to the rodeo and just be with your community,” Dahlseid explains. “People enjoy visiting and seeing each other, and it’s just a great family event.”

While the event is loved by Eagle County residents, Dahlseid has seen the crowd grow in numbers over the years, including visitors from as far as Europe. “One year we sold out days in advance, and that was record breaking for us,” says Dahlseid. “I get goosebumps watching the crowd, because they get so involved.”

Although the fair has grown and changed over the years, the sense of community and support has remained. “There is definitely a huge community of support and a great team from the county putting this on,” explains Dahlseid. “We definitely want to give back to the community, and the goal is to have a nice event for everyone to attend from all different cultures.”

Photo by Robby Freeman

In addition to the crowd growing in numbers, the support from local businesses has been outstanding with 78 sponsors last year. We shattered all of our records last year with our sponsorship,” adds Dahlseid. We even had people contacting us during the event to be a sponsor for the following year.”

With all of the hard work from the fair council, the event now hosts world champion competitors. I would have never had the opportunity to see this caliber of competitors had it not been for this rodeo and the ability to go watch them, so it’s definitely a treat for us,” Leonetti says.

The Eagle County Fair & Rodeo, beloved by locals and visitors alike, returns July 27-30, 2022 for its 82nd year of bringing the community together to continue the historical tradition.

The rodeo was really just a hometown event, and now to see how it has just exploded,” says Leonetti, we attract names that I see on TV, and its just neat to see how it has progressed.”