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Oregon Trail Days changes planned
May 25, 2012 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis
The Oregon Trail Days Chili Cook-Off and the carnival, mainstays of the annual event, will be moving this year to allow for more growth.
Bill Schlaepfer, chairman of the Oregon Trail Days Committee, said the chili cook-off and carnival will be relocated to the area surrounding Five Rocks Amphitheater south of Gering.

“The cook-off will be on the east side of the amphitheater in the park area between Robidoux RV Park and the amphitheater itself,” Schlaepfer said. “This gives us room for expansion we just didn’t have when we were located in Oregon Trail Park.” An expanded playground area for the kids will be added with bounce houses.

He said the Chili Cook-Off will remain the same with a beer garden and music by area favorite the Drivin’ Dynamics. Other acts, yet to be finalized, will be included.

Saturday evening, after the chili is judged, McDonald’s is putting on a free concert at the amphitheater. The name of the band will be announced at a later date.

Schlaepfer said the expanded area will allow for more events, more entertainment and more chili cooks who want to participate.

A number of people have expressed their concern on the social media sites over the location, which is just off Highway 71.

“We’ve heard some concerns about parking and especially about kids crossing the highway to get to the carnival,” he said. ‘The parking is almost double what we had before in Oregon Trail Park.”

Schlaepfer said he’s meeting with Police Chief Mel Griggs and Ron Ernst from the Parks and Recreation Department about the concern of highway traffic around the area.

“I’m going to request a lower speed limit along that stretch of the highway,” he said. “We’d also be willing to provide crossing guards. We’ve also arranged for a free shuttle bus from the Civic Center out to Five Rocks and back. We’re working hard to address all the concerns before the event.”

He said another comment he’s received is why they would want to fix something that isn’t broken. “I’ve been chairman of the chili cook-off for the last three years and every year, attendance has dropped,” he said. “That’s something on its way to being broken. We had no more room where we could add things at our former location. I’m willing to take the risk to see if it works because I want this event to succeed.”

Another concern is for their carnival provider – Fraser Shows from Arizona. Because the carnival is on a swing through the Midwest at this time, they must bring all of their rides for the trip. Because of the confines of Oregon Trail Park, several of their rides had to be parked elsewhere.

“It costs a lot in diesel fuel to make the trip here,” Schlaepfer said. “We want them to have the ability to set up all their rides. This will help them recover some of their costs. We want to keep them coming back because they’re just a great show.”

A new event is planned in Oregon Trail Park, called “Graffiti in the Grass.” People can use washable chalk to create artwork on the grass area, which will be judged for prizes. The Oregon Trail Days Committee is also looking for a person to organize a horseshoe pitching event, which was popular in past years.

For more information or to volunteer for any of the events, call Bill at (308) 436-4617.
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