The closure of Interstate 84’s eastbound lanes in the Columbia River Gorge due to wildfire seems to be having little effect on the Pendleton Round-Up.
Horse trailers and recreational vehicles are filling camping areas, and street parking Monday afternoon near the Round-Up Grounds was scarce. But vendor Alvin Johnson said the crowds Saturday were smaller than in previous years, and he had no doubt air quality was to blame.
“We book these spots a year in advance, so we kind of have to be here to sell our stuff,” Johnson said. “We’re really dependent on customers getting here from the bigger areas.”
Johnson sells American Indian jewelry and pottery at the corner of Southwest Court Avenue and 10th Street. He said he traveled from Ashland through Bend and came into town Friday, and the wildfire smoke filled air the whole way. The Oregon Department of Transportation’s Tripcheck website shows 45 miles of I-84 remain closed from Troutdale to Hood River. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, the eastbound lanes will remain closed for at least a week during cleanup efforts.
Johnson said he was worried the shut down would deter people from coming this week to Pendleton.
“A lot of western Oregon people use those main highways to get to us,” Johnson said.
Folks who decided not to come might figure they will try again next year, he said, but that means he loses money this year.
Staffs at the Hampton Inn, Oxford Suites, and Red Lion Hotel, three of Pendleton’s larger hotels, reported having one or two cancellations each due to the I-84 closure, but otherwise their establishments would be full or close to it. And Round-Up spokesperson Randy Thomas said the annual show is ready to go.
“None of the competitors said they weren’t going to make it out,” he said. “We’ve have a few calls [Monday] morning from people wondering how it is over here and asking how to get here.”
Air quality started improving late last week in the area and was good enough Saturday morning for the annual Kyle Burnside Dress-Up Parade Fun Run. Thomas said a couple of people asked about refunds, and Round-Up staff is advising concerned callers to take alternate routes if they are coming from the Portland-metro area, either Highway 26 around Mount Hood or crossing the Columbia River into Washington to take Highway 14.
If smoke again chokes the air, Thomas said, the Round-Up is ready — medical director Dr. Bradley Adams doubled his inventory of inhalators to help anyone with respiratory problems.
The skies have been clearer since Friday, and the weather forecast shows mostly clear skies with high temperatures between 69 and 77 degrees during rodeo performances this week.
Johnny Blagg is the vendor director of the Main Street Cowboys, which each Round-Up packs vendors and free entertainment in downtown Pendleton. Around 40-45 acts and sellers are coming, he said, and none have canceled due to the wildfires.
“A few said they might be here a little later than they planned, but they would be here,” he said.
Thomas said ticket sales are a good indicator of people coming to the Round-Up, and this year’s sales continue at a “great pace” with few seats remaining for Saturday’s championship rounds.
Johnson said he’s hoping Round-Up fans from western Oregon make the trek, and would like to see the Oregon Department of Transportation open I-84 soon. Even one eastbound lane, he said, would be encouraging.