- Associated Press - Monday, June 16, 2014

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Tom Parker couldn’t stop smiling.

The longtime Casper College rodeo coach opened the door and entered an 80-by-200-foot dirt-filled arena. Banks of fluorescent lights attached to wooden support beams ran the length of the arena.

The lights remained off, though, as natural light poured in from numerous windows, unbroken and remarkably clean.

Earlier, Parker stood in the middle of what used to be a lambing shed and envisioned how it was going to be transformed into a pen where “calves and steers could be protected from the weather.”

Parker pointed to another outlying building and described how it could be used to house bulls and other livestock. He made mention of the water pumps, which seemingly rose out of the ground every 20 yards, and the abundant electrical outlets in all the enclosed buildings.

Through it all, Parker smiled, and for good reason.

Parker and Casper College athletic director Bill Landen were giving an impromptu tour of the college’s latest purchase, a 167.5-acre ranch located about seven miles west of town.

Dubbed the Ranch Campus, the land and the red-and-white buildings are expected to enhance Casper College’s award-winning agriculture program by providing students with more hands-on learning experiences.

“We think this really has a chance to put Casper College on the map as far as our ag program is concerned,” Landen said. “I think once we get everything done out here that we envision, we can be one of the top five ag programs in the country.”

“At least,” Parker added. “Maybe one of the top two or three.”

The real reason for Parker’s excitement, however, is the benefits the property presents for his rodeo team. The Thunderbirds men’s team qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo, which begins Sunday, for the third time in the past four years.

For years, the Casper College rodeo teams have practiced at The Arena at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds. They also hold their annual Ropin’ and Riggin’ Days Rodeo there every spring.

While Parker is appreciative of the use of the facility, he’s ready for a move to greener pastures.

“I’m not ever going to take anything away from the people on the fair board because they’ve been absolutely fantastic to us ever since I’ve been here,” Parker said. “At the same time, we can’t always get in there when we need to practice.

“Now, once we get an arena built on the property, we’ll be in a situation that we can practice pretty much anytime that we want to. We don’t have to be on somebody else’s schedule. That allows us to take a little more time and do some personal coaching. Now we can slow things down and work with each individual, no matter how much time it takes.”

Parker expects the Ranch Campus to be home to a 200-by-300-foot state-of-the-art arena complete with a roping box, holding chutes and enough room to move livestock. He also envisions an enclosed alley that will connect the arena to the horse stalls in an adjacent building.

And with more than enough land to house all their livestock, Parker will no longer have to spend his days hauling cattle. Currently, Casper College rents land near the airport to house its livestock.

“During the season, on a normal day I’d get up at 5 in the morning and then I wouldn’t get home until 9:30 or 10 o’clock at night,” Parker said. “I was spending an average of four to five hours a day hauling livestock back and forth to the fairgrounds.

“It was about a 13-mile round trip, and we had to do that three to four times in the morning and three to four times at night. It was just something that we had to do if we were going to rodeo.”

Parker estimates that not having to haul livestock across Natrona County “will save the school thousands of dollars.”

Landen expects the rodeo arena and the remodeling to cost about $1.5 million. That money won’t come from the college, which paid $3.1 million for the Ranch Campus.

“It’s all going to be private funding,” Landen said. “We’re hoping that there’s enough alumni and friends out there that are as excited about this as we are. It will make a huge difference in what Tom is able to offer his student-athletes.

“We knew that if we were going to stay competitive in college rodeo, we needed to think about having our own property.”

Currently, Casper College is the only school in the 11-team Central Rocky Mountain Region that doesn’t have its own rodeo facility. Obviously, that’s about to change. Parker and Landen expect the rodeo arena on the Ranch Campus to be completed in the fall of 2015.

Both credit Casper College President Dr. Walter Nolte with making it possible.

“I’ve got to tip my hat to Dr. Nolte because he and the board really stepped up and saw the vision,” Landen said. “We know the potential of what this has to do for the rodeo program.

“When this is complete, I can’t imagine any college or university in the country having a better opportunity in the country than what we’re going to be able to offer our student-athletes.”

Parker agreed.

“This is above and beyond what I could have ever imagined,” he said, “especially with what was already here and what we had access to.

“I didn’t think it would ever happen in my day. . It’s just phenomenal. When Dr. Nolte asked if we thought it was worth it, it only took me about 30 seconds to say, ‘Yeah!’

“Now we’ve got a place to call home.”

___

Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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