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Rendezvous organizers emphasize benefits of annual unique event

Posted: Friday, Mar 22nd, 2013

Segundo Sue Bridge and Booshway Mike Chatelain. Courtesy photo

FORT BRIDGER — As organizers continue preparations for the 41st annual Fort Bridger Rendezvous, they’re hoping to emphasize the positive impact of the event — the second largest in Wyoming behind Cheyenne’s Frontier Days — on the Bridger Valley and Uinta County as a whole.

The rendezvous, which has seen as many as 80,000 descend on the town of Fort Bridger — boasting a population of less than 500 — in previous years, may seem somewhat overwhelming to area residents, particularly those who are not directly involved with it.

“The residents of the Bridger Valley, they always get hit with the extra traffic and extra parking and things like that, and I think they may not realize how much the rendezvous brings into the Valley, as far as their commerce and trade, that weekend,” 2013 Booshway — or leader — Mike Chatelain told the Herald during a recent interview. “We contribute a lot back into the community, and we’d like the community to be aware of that. …We’re a non-profit organization, so we don’t retain money other than for startup [costs].”

The rendezvous hires a variety of non-profit groups to help with the event, help that serves as an important fundraiser for many of them. Groups who participated in the 2012 event include the Lyman High School dance team, Bits and Spurs Mini Circuit, Uinta Hospice, the Evanston Child Development Center, the Children’s Learning Foundation, From the Heart Ministries, Bridger Valley Baptist Church, Jim Bridger FFA, the Lyman High School cheerleaders, Uinta County Search and Rescue, and local VFW Post 7798.

“Just from this past rendezvous, we contributed $15,000 to these non-profit organizations in the Valley,” Chatelain said. “And yes, they’ve earned it. But it gives them the opportunity to fundraise for their organizations.”

Chatelain also noted the Fort Bridger Rendezvous Association spent close to $20,000 with vendors in the Valley and Uinta County, as well as making monetary and in-kind donations to the Fort Bridger State Historic Site, in 2012. He said all the money the association uses to fund the event comes from gate admission fees.

And just like most businesses and organizations across the country, organizers of the rendezvous have had to deal with the ongoing economic recession that has made it more difficult for them to raise the vast funding necessary to put on such a large event. And when the cost of renting and maintaining portable toilets for such a crowd reaches $16,000 annually, that can be a daunting task.

Chatelain said the Rendezvous Association board is entirely voluntary, excepting the contracted secretary-treasurer.

“We have a 14-member board, and there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of hours donated by that board to put on the rendezvous,” he said. “If the state ran the rendezvous, they’d be paying employees to do it.”

Making the rendezvous happen is a year-round task for organizers, according to Chatelain, a sentiment echoed by Sue Bridge, this year’s segundo — or assistant booshway.

“It never ceases to amaze me the volume of people that we accommodate,” Bridge said, “and it’s nice, because it works so well that we kind of ride through it. We organize it, we prepare for it, and then it kind of runs itself, to an extent.”

The board meets every month, and members have assigned tasks they must complete between each meeting.

Chatelain and Bridge also emphasized the good working relationship they have worked to maintain with the state.

“We’re moving forward,” Bridge said of the mutual effort. “It’s not broken, but it can always be better. We’re trying to streamline what’s been worked on in the past, to make it more efficient, so we can spend more time focusing on our event, and not on the logistics of where we’re going to put people.”

The Fort Bridger Historical Association is responsible for all the modern food concessions located in the fort’s parking lot — food vendors within the fort serve only period foods — as well as any other feature at the event considered “non-period.” And more than a dozen other concession stands are run by local nonprofits and churches.

“We’d like to let the community know that this rendezvous is a good thing for the Valley,” Chatelain said. “It brings a lot of commerce in, it brings a lot of tourist dollars in.”

This year’s rendezvous is set for Aug. 30 through Sept. 2. More information about it can be found at www.fortbridgerrendezvous.net.

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