In a surprising turn of events, the Nimrod Bull Bash went from almost certainly not happening to very likely happening Sept. 4-6 at Meech’s Bucking Bulls Ranch east of Nimrod.
After numerous conversations between organizer Troy Meech, county officials, state health department and Minnesota Attorney General staff, the event is said to be moving ahead once a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan is submitted. The organizers have said they worked with the state to craft a COVID-19 plan, the steps they will take to make the event a safe gathering that works to avoid a further spread of COVID-19.
While that plan was submitted Monday, Aug. 31, just four days from the first day of the event, more information is still needed, according to Wadena County Coordinator Ryan Odden. Requirements laid out in these plans largely focus on how social distancing will be maintained and providing ample resources for hand washing and sanitizing. Mask wearing is also strongly encouraged in these types of venues, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Originally, one major hiccup holding back the event was the enforcement of an amended large assembly ordinance that was on the books for over 30 years in the county, then amended and enforced in January 2020. That ordinance is no longer applicable as the Bull Bash cannot have more than 61 spectators, according to a spokesperson for the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. Sixty-one spectators is the admissible amount based on guidelines found within the Stay Safe Minnesota plan as related to safe capacities of people socially distancing in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. It's a number based on the amount of square footage available to spectators, about 113 square feet per person. And it’s a number that Meech told the Attorney General’s Office they would abide with.
During a protest in Wadena the previous week, Meech shared with a KVLY reporter in an interview that the Bull Bash has had up to 4,000 people on a Saturday night. Knowing that they are being asked to limit that number significantly, he was hesitant to say what to expect for the bull bash.
“The government has got our tongues tied,” Meech said over the phone. While he’d like to brag about the 18th year of the event, he said he’s afraid to promote the event at all for fear of bringing in spectators, something most any event typically thrives on. But during the pandemic, the thought of large numbers of people has brought most events in the region to cancel.
Despite their differences in opinion on how to run the event, Meech said relations have improved between him and the state departments seeking to guide Meech through the narrow gates of operating events in a pandemic. He hopes to still put on a positive event despite the negativity he said has surrounded the planning.
Odden said much time has been spent trying to bring this event in compliance with the Governor’s executive orders and guidelines by DEED. Another wrench thrown into the event is a state liquor license approval for the Nimrod Boosters to serve alcohol at the event. Wadena County Commissioners approved a liquor license Tuesday, Sept. 1, pending liability insurance is sent in with sufficient time to get the license approved by the County Sheriff, County Attorney and then submitted to the state for approval. Proof of insurance was not sent in with the application.
“The state is one that actually issues the license,” Odden said.
The Bull Bash has been a topic of discussion for most of the commissioner meetings in August. Commissioner Jon Kangas has repeatedly said that the restrictions related to COVID-19 requirements and guidance placed on businesses and events have been too heavy. He felt that the Bull Bash event in particular was mishandled by the county, which prompted him to request an independent investigation of how the Nimrod Bull Bash licensing and permitting has been handled by Wadena County. He felt that there have been roadblocks thrown at the event that no other events have had to deal with.
“This is my opinion. I think it needs to be looked at ... but I think it needs to be somebody from outside the county to look at it,” Kangas said. “I think there are some serious concerns been raised.”
The motion died for a lack of a second.
Kangas pushed further, comparing how schools are allowed to have more students in an indoor classroom than the Bull Bash is allowed to have in an outdoor area. He said if schools followed the same guidance there could only be about six or seven students per classroom.
Regarding that topic, Wadena County Public Health Director Cindy Pederson said she does not expect on site compliance checks from Public Health to see if schools are following guidelines.
Commission chair Chuck Horsager was hopeful the Bull Bash would go on. He wondered, though, if they should have any concerns of large crowds showing up for the event or if they, as a county, should take a hands-off approach.
Odden noted that with the large assembly ordinance off the table for the Bull Bash at this time and a liquor license pending, there still remains the fact that the event organizers have a responsibility to take into consideration public safety during the pandemic. County Attorney Kyra Ladd noted that what happens in Nimrod does not necessarily stay in Nimrod.
“The state is acutely aware of everything happening in Nimrod this weekend, including this request for a liquor license,” Ladd said.
So what should you be prepared for if you plan to attend?
One thing people can be prepared for is there will not be advance ticket sales. All ticket sales will be at the gate. That topic, too, has come under question as the Wadena County Ag Society’s Rodeo, in a last minute change, had to sell advance tickets only to their event.
Bull riding is expected to begin at 7 p.m. each night, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It’s not clear if anyone will be turned away from the event. The grounds are located at 25612 County Road 12, Sebeka.