Back in the saddle: 61st annual Penn Valley Rodeo begins Friday |

Back in the saddle: 61st annual Penn Valley Rodeo begins Friday

T.J. Parker won second in calf roping durng last year's Penn Valley Rodeo. The rodeo is celebrating its 61st year and will welcome between 5,000 and 6,000 visitors.
Elias Funez/


WHAT: 61st Penn Valley Rodeo

WHERE: Penn Valley Rodeo Grounds, 10513 Spenceville Road, Penn Valley

WHEN: Friday and Saturday

TICKETS: $10 advance adult/$15 adult at the gate/$5 child under 12 years/child under 6 FREE


When the volunteer firefighters of Penn Valley’s fire house held their first rodeo in 1956, they did so with the intention of raising funds for their firefighting efforts.

They needed equipment, tools, and other such accessories to help their modest team thrive. The event was scheduled for one day only.

The volunteers probably didn’t expect their rodeo — that day held behind the fire house — would become a tradition, and would survive long enough to celebrate its 61st anniversary, which it will this weekend.

The Penn Valley rodeo officially kicks off Friday night with the gates opening at 5 p.m. Opening night festivities include a barbecue dinner, dancing, music, and of course the events for which rodeos are known, things like bareback, calf roping and bull riding.

Friday will also mark the crownings of the junior and senior Miss Penn Valley Rodeo.

“They reign for the entire year,” said Patty Wilkins, vice president of the Penn Valley Community Rodeo Association board. “They visit other rodeos, and other queens visit here. They’re very active and they work very hard. We support them to make sure they can get to functions and represent our rodeo.”

Saturday brings much activity back to the arena, where in addition to bull riding, mutton busting and other equestrian events, the Rodeo Parade will wind its way down Penn Valley Drive and across Spenceville Road.

Penn Valley Area Chamber of Commerce board member Susan George said the parade is a festive, family-friendly event that features over 45 entries like the Wells Fargo stage coach, the California Highway Patrol mounted patrol unit, vintage tractors and equestrians.

The Nevada County Sheriffs and Beale Honor Guard lead the parade.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said George, “and what I would think of as a nice down-home parade. It’s really to honor our western heritage.”

George said many attendees make their way to the arena directly following the parade to take part in the rodeo activities.

About 5,000 to 6,000 people are expected at the rodeo. Patty Wilkins said about 65 to 70 percent of rodeo-goers are local Nevada County residents, and the balance come from other surrounding areas.

“We try and keep it family oriented,” said Wilkins. “We encourage a lot of child participation. We try to keep it a fun and safe environment for families.”

Wilkins went on to mention that the rodeo also serves to preserve the history of ranches, farms, and livestock in the area.

“It’s important to provide events at our grounds that promote western heritage of western Nevada County and support young people through events and scholarships to continue the western heritage lifestyle.”

Jennifer Nobles is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at or 530-477-4231.

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