Darrington Rodeo set to kick off following Hwy 530 reopening

DARRINGTON, Wash. - A stretch of Highway 530 that was buried in the deadly mudslide near Oso in late March reopened to two-way traffic on Friday afternoon.

The reopening is a big relief to organizers of the Darrington Timberbowl Rodeo. The rodeo kicks off on Saturday afternoon after tens of thousands of dollars in upgrades were made to the rodeo grounds.

Nick Bates, a team of volunteers, and dozens of workers have spent several weeks putting up a new fence around the arena. They also replaced and painted the boards on the grandstands, recovered the announcer's booth, and put up several new signs.

"Long overdue, yeah," said Bates, President of the Darrington Horse Owners Association.

Bates said it's been exhausting work, but the upgrades were needed to improve safety for those who come to enjoy the rodeo.

"The place was definitely due for some upgrades 'cause it was looking pretty bad for a while," said barrel racer Alexis Blakey. She's also a former rodeo queen.

Bates said the upgrades wouldn't have been possible this year without more than $100,000 in state grants that Governor Inslee approved last month to aid tourism efforts in areas affected by March's deadly mudslide.

About $25,000 in state aid went to upgrades at the rodeo grounds, Bates said. Coastal Community Bank also donated $5,000, he added.

Part of the money the governor approved last month was spent on an ad campaign to promote outdoor recreation experiences in the Stillaguamish Valley. The ads are running on television, online, and on social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, said a spokeswoman for BrandQuery.

BrandQuery worked on the marketing effort. Some of the ads also carry a tagline about this weekend's rodeo, but the ads will change throughout the summer to promote other area events, the spokeswoman said.

"Bring more people here, we're gonna bring more revenue to the community," said Bates. "That's the whole goal."

The goal could be easier to reach now that Highway 530 has reopened to two-way traffic through the mudslide site, Bates said.

No one will forget what happened on that terrible day in March, and no one will forget the lives that were lost, Bates said. But part of the area's recovery process involves making sure the rodeo stands are full this weekend just like they've always been, he added.

"It looks pretty damn good, I think," said Bates