WADENA, Minn. — In a surprising turn of events, the Nimrod Bull Bash went from almost certainly not happening to very likely happening Sept. 4-6 at Meech’s Bucking Bulls Ranch east of Nimrod, Minn.
But instead of thousands watching the event in Sebeka, Minn., only 61 spectators in attendance will be allowed.
After numerous conversations between organizer Troy Meech, Wadena County officials, state health department and Minnesota Attorney General staff, the event is said to be moving ahead this weekend once a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan is submitted. The organizers have said they worked with the state to craft a COVID-19 plan, the steps they will take to make the event a safe gathering that works to avoid a further spread of COVID-19.
While that plan was submitted Monday, Aug. 31, just four days from the first day of the event, more information is still needed, according to Wadena County Coordinator Ryan Odden. Requirements laid out in these plans largely focus on how social distancing will be maintained and providing ample resources for hand washing and sanitizing. Mask wearing is also strongly encouraged in these types of venues, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
The Bull Bash cannot have more than 61 spectators in attendance, according to a spokesperson for the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. Sixty-one spectators is the admissible amount based on guidelines found within the Stay Safe Minnesota plan as related to safe capacities of people socially distancing in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
It's a number based on the amount of square footage available to spectators, about 113 square feet per person. And it’s a number that Meech told the Attorney General’s Office they would abide with.
During a protest in Wadena the previous week, Meech shared with a KVLY reporter in an interview that the Bull Bash has had up to 4,000 people on a Saturday night. Knowing that they are being asked to limit that number significantly, he was hesitant to say what to expect for the bull bash.
“The government has got our tongues tied,” Meech said over the phone. While he’d like to brag about the 18th year of the event, he said he’s afraid to promote the event at all for fear of bringing in spectators, something most any event typically thrives on.
Despite their differences in opinion on how to run the event, Meech said relations have improved between him and the state departments seeking to guide Meech through the narrow gates of operating events in a pandemic. He hopes to still put on a positive event despite the negativity he said has surrounded the planning.
Odden said much time has been spent trying to bring this event in compliance with the governor’s executive orders and guidelines by DEED. Another wrench thrown into the event is a state liquor license approval for the Nimrod Boosters to serve alcohol at the event. Wadena County Commissioners approved a liquor license Tuesday, Sept. 1, pending liability insurance is sent in with sufficient time to get the license approved by the County Sheriff, County Attorney and then submitted to the state for approval. Proof of insurance was not sent in with the application.
“The state is the one that actually issues the license,” Odden said.
The Bull Bash has been a topic of discussion for most of the commissioner meetings in August. Commissioner Jon Kangas has repeatedly said that the restrictions related to COVID-19 requirements and guidance placed on businesses and events have been too heavy. He felt that the Bull Bash event in particular was mishandled by the county, which prompted him to request an independent investigation of how the Nimrod Bull Bash licensing and permitting has been handled by Wadena County. He felt that there have been roadblocks thrown at the event that no other events have had to deal with.
“This is my opinion. I think it needs to be looked at ... but I think it needs to be somebody from outside the county to look at it,” Kangas said. “I think there are some serious concerns been raised.”
The motion died for a lack of a second.
Odden noted that with the large assembly ordinance off the table for the Bull Bash at this time and a liquor license pending, there still remains the fact that the event organizers have a responsibility to take into consideration public safety during the pandemic. County Attorney Kyra Ladd noted that what happens in Nimrod does not necessarily stay in Nimrod.
“The state is acutely aware of everything happening in Nimrod this weekend, including this request for a liquor license,” Ladd said.