In year’s past, the Chugwater Roundup, which is held the same day as the Chugwater Chili Cookoff, has had temporary use of land on a vacant lot in town. This year, it will be at the same location, but it’s no longer a temporary — and expensive — home for this eastern Wyoming event.
Joshua Hopkins, who this year took over coordinating the Chugwater Roundup, has bought the lot that’s been used in past years for the ranch rodeo. He’s adding an arena there that he hopes to make permanent.
Hopkins said he got the idea after helping run the rodeo portion of the two events that are always held the same day in 2022.
“My concept back then was, ‘Hey, wait a second, we’re just using a lot that the town doesn’t own, and we’re having to pay a lot of money for the temporary use of this space over and over again,’” he told Cowboy State Daily.
That started a chain of thought to find a way to reduce that annual cost of the event, so the fundraiser’s money for nonprofits in the small town about 40 miles north of Cheyenne along Interstate 25 could go further.
“I started looking into it as a private interest,” Hopkins said. “Because, you know these public entities don’t really have the ability — money, time, or dedication — to run something like this. But maybe a private business could provide that space for the Chugwater Roundup and then expand into doing some other activities to make it financially productive and more publicly visible, to bring people into town.”
Hopkins’ idea for the arena, when it’s not being used for the Chugwater Roundup, is to keep an arena there for year-round use. People could ride or train horses there for a nominal fee.
The space could also potentially be available to a new charter school that is being set up in Chugwater, Hopkins added, and the Chugwater Roundup would then have a new, permanent home that doesn’t cost anything.
“(The idea) is to just take what is an empty lot and build something incrementally easy and relevant historically to the town,” Hopkins said. “It’s not just the Chugwater Roundup, but historically to the town, this is something the town had and lost and is getting back again.”
This year, the arena for the Chugwater Roundup on Saturday will be three-quarters permanent, Hopkins said.
“I didn’t have bucking chutes ready, so my guy who’s running the rodeo, we’re going to build three sides of it and then he’s going to provide some temporary ones,” Hopkins explained.
New Activities For 37th Annual
Three different musical acts have been lined up for Chugwater’s 37th annual Chili Cookoff and Roundup, two events held the same day, with headliner Jalan Crossland from Ten Sleep.
The car show will make its way back to Main Street this year.
“It was on Main Street for the first time last year, and we had double the turnout,” Hopkins said. “We had over 50 cars, and we’ve got someone running that again, so there’s going to be a big turnout.”
There will be a “Ninja” course for kids — open two times throughout the day — as well as a kid’s carnival, cobbler tasting, pie-eating contest, salsa sampling and complimentary horse-drawn carriage rides.
The rodeo, meanwhile, will be a WRC-sanctioned event, which is new this year. But it will still be a good old-fashioned ranch rodeo like it always has been.
The chili cookoff itself, meanwhile, is the real deal. It’s the Wyoming State Championship, backed by a letter from the governor, which designates the event as the state’s official contest. It will determine who from Wyoming can enter the finals that will take place down in Texas.
Chugwater Revival Continues
Hopkins, along with social media star Jill Winger, are among a contingent of newcomers that have been creating something of a revival in Chugwater, which had a population of just 175 people in 2020, according to U.S. Census Data.
Winger and her husband have recently restored the Soda Fountain, which is Wyoming’s oldest operating soda fountain. They’re selling grass-fed beef raised on their ranch near Chugwater, along with 35 flavors of milkshakes and other delicious foods.
Down the road is the Stampede Saloon, which brings live music to town every Friday and Saturday and features a buffet as well as Saddle Bronc Brown Ale brewed in Sheridan.
Hopkins, meanwhile, is one of a trio backing the Tri-County Mercantile right across the street from the Chugwater Soda Fountain. That trio also includes Chugwater natives Jess and Arden Miller.
Hopkins, before he settled in Chugwater, was searching for a small town to call his own, a place where meaningful connections could be made.
One of the things Hopkins likes about Chugwater is its location and history.
“It’s naturally, regionally distinct,” he said.
And that’s all part of his whole point behind the Mercantile.
“It’s something people really needed, but it’s also a way to assert our culture here in town,” Hopkins said.
That’s why the store carries things that ranchers need, as well as everyday groceries like milk and bread, in a space that includes an area where people can sit for a spell, as well as a community bulletin board.
“People can come here, and then the people who visit us can see how we do business on a daily basis,” Hopkins said. “And it keeps the money in town, so there’s many, many benefits.”
The arena idea is another in the same vein. Hopkins hopes it will not only give visitors something unique to do that’s quintessentially Chugwater, keeping some of the town’s past roots alive, but help build things up for the future.
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.