Protest planned to support Minnesota bull-riding event, and oppose public safety measures
WADENA, Minn. — The Nimrod Bull Bash is planned for Labor Day weekend, Sept. 4-6, but organizers have concerns the event may not be able to go on as planned.
“We’re kind of just planning on doing it until the government tells us that we can’t,” said Heidi Bollig, a contact person for the Nimrod Bull Bash.
Organizers of the protest are planning to support the bull-riding event and oppose what they are calling "government overreach" Wednesday, Aug. 19, in Wadena.
The protest is in response to county event restrictions sent to them that Bollig said were “a little excessive.”
Bucking Bulls owner Troy Meech said he’s hearing of lots of support for the protest, shared Tuesday on Facebook, and expects thousands of people and horses to attend.
“I want people to come for themselves,” Meech said. He said he wants this to be a protest toward government overreach.
“For smaller people like us, it’s tough to just ignore it and live on, kind of a livelihood and an income,” Bollig said.
Wadena County Coordinator Ryan Odden said he has been working with Meech on holding the Nimrod Bull Bash. Meech returned an application needed to host a large assembly, but certain parts of the application have missing information and the county is seeking that information in order to move forward. Part of that includes Meech stating how many people he anticipates will attend.
“I have not gotten an official response back at this time,” Odden said regarding completion of the application. Odden said he spoke with Meech twice over the phone and he said Meech was frustrated with the ordinance.
Meech said he spoke again with the county and state health department officials Tuesday regarding his plans to hold the 18th annual Bull Bash. He said the request that he keep his attendance to 250 people was too much to ask.
“There’s no way I can follow their guidelines,” Meech said. The event website says the event brings thousands of guests each year for the three-day event.
The large assembly ordinance that was updated last fall was on the Wadena County books since 1978, but apparently never enforced. The intent of the ordinance, as Odden said, is to protect those assembled in large gatherings.
The ordinance states that those events reasonably anticipating assembly of 1,500 or more people must first obtain a license to do so from the county. And they must apply for this license at least 90 days before the date of the event.
Within the ordinance are expectations of the event organizers including that they must give notice of the maximum amount of people allowed in; there must be a fence surrounding the perimeter to limit people in excess of the maximum capacity from entering; safe drinking water; and sanitary considerations are also part of the ordinance. It also addresses that the event must have plans to not exceed the maximum attendance and that the county can restrict the maximum number if deemed a health concern.
The ordinance states that it does “not apply to any regularly established, permanent place of worship, stadium, athletic field, auditorium, or other similar permanently established place, where shows or exhibitions are held.”
During a Wadena County Commission meeting Tuesday, Aug. 11, Commissioner Jon Kangas said the ordinance does not apply to regularly established events, like the Bull Bash, as he interprets the ordinance. There was a lack of consensus on that point as the ordinance was not readily viewable.
Once the large assembly ordinance application is resolved, the event organizers must also expect to follow the Minnesota governor's executive orders related to COVID-19.
“Obviously everybody still needs to follow the COVID-19 guidelines,” Odden said.
The county sought advice on the large event from the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, according to Wadena County Commissioner Jim Hofer. He said the big question remains for the biggest Wadena County event: How can organizers put on an event of this size with spectators? He compared it to college football games being canceled and Twins baseball players not playing in front of spectators.
Meech said he feels like a cat in a corner trying to follow the rules from the different groups, but he adds he is not yet ready to throw his hands in the air and give up on the event.