Western Fest is wrapped up for another year and it was another fun-filled celebration. The fortunate turn of the weather from a rainy forecast to a mostly dry, cloudy and cool stretch helped keep things rolling along. June can be a wonderful and difficult month. Rain seems to pop up almost anytime and had been forecast for nearly the entire weekend.

Although not the warm and sunny days and clear warm nights are what most of us would prefer, the weather turned out fine and the crowds were good-sized. We always enjoy going to the rodeo and are always amazed with the performers (both human and livestock) and the crowd. Rodeo has been a tradition here since Bud Mooney and his friends landed the high school championship here, back to the mid-1950s. It keeps drawing crowds and new faces each year. The event draws folks from a wide area and many of them seem to be dedicated rodeo fans. We’re always amazed at the number of new faces in the crowds each year. We heard plenty of nice comments about how well-run the rodeo is and how accommodating the facilities are. That’s a credit to everyone involved. We don’t get around to other rodeos but the folks who do, including many of the performers, say this is one of the nicest places they go. The arena, the grounds and the whole experience seems to ring well with them.

There’s been talk that summertime community celebrations are becoming more and more difficult to sustain. That doesn’t seem to be the case here, nor in our immediate area. Western Fest is very much alive and kicking. It’s remarkable how many people participate each year. While not every Western Fest event appeals to everybody, over the course of the four days, there is something for almost everyone.

Riding in the parade each year gives us a good look at how many people come out and enjoy the celebration. There are thousands of folks lining the 16-block, mile-and-a-quarter parade route each year. There are old and new faces, some familiar and some not so familiar. There are people from surrounding towns and those who are returning to their old hometown to see other old friends. What a great reason to hold a town celebration and what a great theme to build it around. Thanks to the Western Fest Committee for all their diligent, hard work and thanks to the many volunteers who give of their time to help make it all happen. We are so fortunate to have a lively and fun summer community celebration like Western Fest.

It’s never fun to want to be in two places at the same time. That happened last week during the first two days of Western Fest when a quick trip to Washington DC, courtesy of the Southwest Corridor Transportation Coalition, kept us from getting to the Wednesday and Thursday Western Fest events. The trip, part of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance’s annual Washington Fly-In, was a good chance to meet with nearly all of Minnesota’s Representatives and both our Senators about making improvements to Highway 212 as well as upgrades that the Highway 23 Coalition delegation was lobbying for.

Carver County is leading the charge on finding funding for Highway 212, which is the most traveled road in their county. They have enacted a half-cent sales tax for road improvements in their county, most of it dedicated to improving state highways that MnDOT doesn’t have enough funds to improve. They expected to collect about $4 million per year with that sales tax but instead are on track to collect about $8 million. That’s good news for the many folks in western Minnesota who travel that route to the Twin Cities. They are also chasing after federal grants and our work this time in Washington was to encourage our congressional delegation to speak up for their latest application for an “Infrastructure for Rebuilding America” (INFRA) grant.

The application is for the remaining $3.56 million needed to fully fund widening the two-lane gap east of Cologne and the $38.3 million needed to fully fund the widening of two-lane gap between Norwood Young America and Cologne. The Carver County folks love having a show of support from areas to the west. Our delegation included three McLeod County officials, a Hutchinson city council member and a representative from Marshall, all of whom use Highway 212 as their primary route into the Twin Cities. Our meetings went very well as we heard of strong support from our federal elected officials with a promise to call US DOT Secretary Elaine Chou to urge her selection of Highway 212 for the very competitive INFRA grant.

If that grant doesn’t materialize this summer, we’ll move up the chain for the next round of INFRA grants. Meanwhile, the work behind the scenes will continue. Sen. Tina Smith was on our flight home Thurs-day afternoon and at the airport gate in Washington we had a chance for a follow-up visit with her about supporting our highway needs. She and Sen. Amy Klo-buchar both are committed to make calls on our behalf.

Rep. Collin Peterson always asks about the Western Fest Parade and schedules it in early each year so once again we followed up on our Washington visit with him before last Saturday’s parade. Tony Jaenisch was his parade driver and we spent time talking about farm issues. Collin says his district has the highest amount of sugar production in the country. Some of the folks in our Washington delegation stayed a day or two extra to do some sight-seeing around that always interesting and very busy city. The folks from McLeod County had to get back for Glencoe Days and I had to get home for Western Fest. Like many others, those in the delegation to Washington were amazed that we hold a rodeo. I told them to drive out on Highway 212 or Highway 23 and enjoy Western Fest and the beautiful river valley.