Rodeo Campgrounds Draw 1,000+ Units
Campsites at Cam-plex in Gillette, Wyo., were almost an afterthought when the multi-event center first opened in 1985.
The 90-lot Windmill campground across from Central and East Pavilion was designed to accommodate a few trade fair vendors and horse racing officials. But never in their wildest dreams would Cam-plex designers believe what exists today, the Gillette News Record reported.
More than 1,100 more campers were staying at Cam-plex Thursday (July 22).
With almost 5,000 people living there for the National High School Finals Rodeo, Cam-plex is roughly the size of Buffalo. That puts it as the 19th biggest town in Wyoming for the week, according to 2009 census figures. There are 98 cities and towns in Wyoming.
Gillette was able to win the bid for the rodeo with its guarantee that it would build campsites.
“We realized there weren’t enough hotel (rooms) in Gillette,” said Dan Barks, Cam-plex general manager.
The evolution since then has been gradual — but significant — as Cam-plex has turned from a small-event venue into a national convention facility. Here’s how it happened:
- Windmill campground had 90 full-service sites with 30 amps.
- In preparation for the 1993 rodeo, Boxelder RV park was created. Its four rows each had 120 campsites, providing 480 spots for campers. Some 120 of those new sites were 50 amp and the remaining 360 were 30 amp electricity.
- In 1998 when the rodeo came to town, Cam-plex had expanded the Boxelder park, increasing the number of campsites from 480 to 688. All of those new spots had 50 amp electrical hookups along with water and sewer.
- In 2000, the North American RV Rally , now known as "The Rally," came to Cam-plex and it created 950 temporary electrical RV sites in the fields surrounding the facility for that event. “We needed a lot more electrical power,” Barks said.
- Over the next few years, it started to transform some of those temporary spots into permanent ones. That was a change that had to happen if Cam-plex wanted to keep garnering national attention. “We have since expanded 400 of the temporary spaces in the fields and made them full service,” Barks said.
There now are 1,175 full service spots in its RV parks. All of them are booked for the rodeo.
There’s no other complex in the nation that has more full service spaces, Barks said.
But as camping evolved so did its campsites.
In its early days the campsites were 18 feet by 50 feet. Today’s units are 25 feet by 50 feet to accommodate slide-out units, awnings and horse trailers that also serve as many contestants’ home on wheels.
“It’s evolved a lot,” Barks said. Today’s RVs and campers have air conditioning, bathrooms with showers and flat-screen TVs.
“Everything we do today is 50 amp,” he said. “(Campers) get bigger, their air conditioners got bigger.”
But Barks hopes RVs don’t get much bigger. The average semi-truck is 53 feet long and he hopes that they don’t go beyond that because Cam-plex doesn’t have any plans to remodel its sites.
“They can’t grow too much bigger,” he said.
Cam-plex is using 300 acres of its total 1,100 acres for the rodeo. Barks estimates some 120 acres of that are the RV parks.
Contestants who are staying in the RV parks pay a $224 fee that covers their stay for one night or 10 nights. They also are charged lodging and sales taxes.
Rex Brown, Cam-plex’s marketing manager, estimates that 370 hotel rooms were occupied this year for the event. But there could be more, since people could have booked their rooms on their own, she said.
“The primary purpose of bringing this event to Gillette is economic,” he said.
The rodeo is a $900,000 project, and its revenue makes it run. It pays for its expenses like staffing, Barks said. Whatever is leftover goes into Cam-plex’s long-term maintenance trust fund.
These days the multi-event center isn’t just used for rodeo. A number of RV rallies come to Cam-plex in its rodeo-off-season along with other local and regional events. About 95% of its business is from local events, he said.
Today, Cam-plex can run two or three regional or national events at once.
“Things have changed so much over the last 25 years,” Brown said.
What’s ahead for Cam-plex? Barks and Brown don’t have anything in mind.
“Right now, nothing is on the books. We’re well suited. There’s nothing that they want that we could not provide on the grounds here,” Barks said.
He acknowledges that’s a strong statement, but he knows it’s true since officials with the NHSFR have told him that.
“Who knows what the next 25 years has in store for us?” Brown said. “I’m sure it’s going to be wonderful.”