Thousands Attend Effie, MN Rodeo Protesting Governor Walz’s COVID-19 Restrictions

Billed as largest longest running rodeo in country, many protested what they called Government overreach.

EFFIE, Minn.-  As Minnesota’s mask mandate takes effect, Governor Tim Walz reminded the state that it’s important for people to follow his directives to slow the spread of COVID-19 — but at a small town rodeo, some do not believe government intervention is necessary.

Thousands of people packed the stands at the 65th Annual North Star Stampede Rodeo in Effie despite — or rather in spite of — orders from the Governor to limit capacity at the outdoor event.

“I thought it was ridiculous,” said attendee Jordan Kilen.

Days before, the organizer of the rodeo Cimmaron Pitzen posted on the rodeo’s Facebook page expressing his outrage at the state’s attempt to limit the amount of spectators, and invited people to protest:

“Thanks to John Olson from the Mn Dept. of Health and Jason Pleggenkuhle from the Attorney General’s office pushing their political agendas, The North Star Stampede will take place with no spectators. If people would like to come and protest against this ridiculous Government Over Reach, feel free to do so, I will not stand in the way of peoples “Right to Assemble””

“It’s just a family-friendly event and after four months, folks need that,” said Rob Farnsworth.

Farnsworth, running for state representative of District 6A, showed up at the rodeo to support. “I think it’s safe outside and it’s kind of a windy day and I’m not concerned about if I was concerned I wouldn’t be here.”

“I’m more concerned about civil liberties and personal freedom and personal responsibility,” he said.

According to the most recent phase of the Governor’s Stay Safe Minnesota Plan, outdoor events and entertainment must not exceed 250 people who are social distanced.

The Governor says going about reopening the economy and activities with caution is part of our shared responsibility to look out for each other and save lives while slowing the spread of the virus.

“I feel safe going anywhere and I’ll do that at my own risk,” said Kilen.

Those protesting, like Kilen, said the Governor limiting the amount of people is infringing on their right to peacefully gather at their community’s big event.

“Government works for the people and I think they’ve forgotten that that they’re elected officials we need to practice our right to vote and get the officials outta there that overstep government and bounds,” Kilen said.

Many of the riders have been wrangling cattle for generations. While for them and their loyal spectators the event is a tradition, for many vendors it’s their way of life.

“Lot of these vendors, this is all we do, this is our livelihood,” said Tom Thibodeau.

Tom and his wife Tammy said they were out of work for 12 weeks because 16 of the rodeos they were scheduled to bring their apparel tent to were canceled.

“It’s a big financial blow. It’s thousands of dollars for us,” Tom said, “They’re dictating whether we can work or not, well they need to ante up if they’re going to force us not to work.”

The couple said it’s not fair that the governor makes the same rules, for all parts of the state.

“For Governor Walz to not come up to this area but dictate what can be done in this area and knowing that it’s a different way of life once you get past, pretty much the metro,” said Tammy.

For the small town just about 40 miles north of Grand Rapids with a population of a little more than 100, rodeo-goers said their event is safe and they will fight to keep it in their community.

“We all live the same lifestyle and we all have each others’ backs and we are all adults we can pull up our big boy pants and know that if we’re sick we don’t go out,” Tammy said.

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