Festivals, Rodeos Part Of Oklahoma Tradition

Saturday, September 2nd 2006, 1:27 pm
By: News On 6

WOODWARD, Okla. (AP) _ In communities across Oklahoma, including Woodward, annual festivals and rodeos have been part of the cultural landscape as long as most can remember.

While everyone knows those events are a cornerstone of local civic life, officials don't know how much money the festivals bring into local economies.

State Rep. Joe Dorman wants to determine that figure through a legislative study.

``The festivals in my district _ such as the Rush Springs Watermelon Festival, the Apache Rattlesnake Hunt, Elgin's Crawds 'N Rods Festival and the Chickasha Festival of Lights _ attract a lot of tourists every year,'' said Dorman, D-Rush Springs. ``Festivals have become an important part of the rural economy, but few people understand their true impact.''

The impact of annual events is significant in Woodward with events such as the Woodward Elks Rodeo, Crystal Christmas, Santa Fest and Fall-A-Days just to name a few. Doug Haines, chief financial officer for the city of Woodward, said the hotel and motel tax was up 7.8 percent in July during some of Woodward's busiest times.

``We have many large and small events here in Woodward that provide a huge impact to our economy,'' said Woodward Chamber of Commerce President C. J. Montgomery. ``Even some of our smaller events bring numerous travelers into town each year. From the rodeos we have to the even the trade shows that are here in Woodward, they all are very productive in nature to the economy of our community.

``This is even true just a couple of weeks ago at the Main Street Festival. There was a large crowd with several of those attending being from out of town. When someone from out of town comes to a festival or event here in Woodward it means they are spending money in Woodward, eating in our restaurants and staying in our hotels. The impact is great and to determine exactly how much all of Woodward's events are adding to Woodward is a very good thing.''

Smaller communities also reap the benefits of festivals and events each year.

``You look at a place like Freedom, which for most of the year is a small town nestled in Northwest Oklahoma,'' said Rural Economic Analyst Samantha Ediburg. ``However, the rodeo held there is a huge part of the community's economy because for three to four days there is an extra 50,000 people in the town at least. You look at something like that and it shows something needs to be done to determine the impact many small towns have from annual events be they ag related or not.''

The study for rural Oklahoma economy by state government is a step in the right direction, according to State Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Dacoma.

``Tourism continues to emerge as a significant factor in our economy in Northwest Oklahoma, We will never change the economy in our state if we continue to focus on Oklahoma City and Tulsa and continue to ignore the other 80 percent of our state,'' said Hickman. ``Anything that helps rural Oklahoma economically is a step in the right direction.''

Officials worry this year's drought could have a negative economic impact on communities that host agriculture related festivals.

``Obviously, a drought reduces crop yield and can leave Oklahoma farmers with less income, but the drought's impact also has a ripple effect that many of my urban colleagues don't understand,'' Dorman said. ``It's important they see the big picture when it comes to economic development outside Oklahoma City and Tulsa. These festivals bring a lot of money into rural communities and drought conditions could hurt our small towns.''

There are over 1,000 festivals established and held across the state each year and no comprehensive study of their impact is currently available. However, a study cited by the Oklahoma Department of Tourism indicates that the Robber's Cave Fall Festival near Wilburton attracts roughly 50,000 people each year and infuses an extra $2 million into the local economy.