Michael Martin Murphey. Courtesy photo.

Michael Martin Murphey. Courtesy photo.

By Caitlin Switzer

RIDGWAY—(April 14, 2014)  In Ridgway, where voters recently passed a $1.9 million bond to finance a streetscape plan that has been in the works for more than a decade, excitement for the 2014 summer season could be not be greater. The town’s historic Clinton Street district is especially lively these days, with the Colorado Boy Brewpub, the Sherbino Theater, several popular antique shops, access to Hartwell Park and some of the town’s best restaurants within walking distance. Ridgway’s regular Moonwalk events (held during full moons) have been highlighting Ridgway’s other neighborhoods as well, revealing a surprising diversity of community and cultural opportunities.

From musical and performance events to fine arts like sculpture, painting, poetry and photography, there is plenty to see, touch, taste, feel and simply enjoy here; Ridgway’s culinary arts will be showcased next Month when the Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce hosts the second annual San Juan Shuffle Tasting Event & Fundraiser, which features a tasting tour of local restaurants from 2 to 9 p.m. on May 31.

However, there’s more to the Ridgway  story—and this year, in addition to showcasing arts and cultural amenities within the creative district, Ridgway is set to honor its ranching history in a big way.

The mountain town may once again enjoy a visit—and performance—from singer and songwriter Michael Martin Murphey. Ridgway’s very popular Heritage Days and Ranch Rodeo is set to return again in 2014, from June 13-15, and Joan Chismire, who heads up Colona’s Ranch History Museum and who will be overseeing heritage activities (including Ute Indian dancers once again from 2-4 p.m.) at the park during the rodeo, has been in contact with Murphey about a possible performance.

“We are so pumped!” Chismire said of the myriad summer events planned to promote the Ranch History Museum, which is housed in the old Colona School and which opens for the season over Memorial Weekend.

Murphey played a July 4 concert here in 2005, as a fundraiser for the newly-formed museum. Chismire, who worked with former Ouray County Historical Society Director and rancher Ginny Harrington on that concert, expressed great excitement about Murphey’s possible return and is now raising funds for the show. Potential sponsors and donors are welcome to call 970-318-1190 to learn how they can help.

The Museum will also celebrate the area’s ranching history with a brand exhibit during its opening weekend.

Colona history buff, rancher and retired educator Tim Force has been working on the brand display since January, and said that a work day will be held to help set it up in the near future. The display will focus on original, local brands.

“We are just going to be exhibiting as many of the old brands from Ouray County as we can come up with,” Force said. “So many people don’t know what branding is, or how it works.”

Brands have been a part of Colorado’s livestock industry since 1865, according to the Colorado Brand Inspection Division, and are intended to protect livestock owners from losses due to theft or straying.

The Ranching History Museum exhibit will include posters detailing the legalities of branding, and a notebook with historic records of those holding the brands over the years, Force said.

“We are building a barn wood fence to enclose all the old brands,” he added. “The display will cover all of the old brands created between 1890 and 1930.”

The brands themselves will also be framed in barn wood, Force noted.

Much of the research for the project was performed by the state brand office, where staffers looked up hundreds of brands to find details for the display. Records go back to 1888, Force said.

“Our state brand commissioner, Chris Whitney, grew up on the Dallas,” Force said. “Chris has even said that he would come to a ribbon cutting for the exhibit if we have one.”

The Brand project will also be displayed at the Ridgway Heritage Days and Ranch Rodeo event June 13-15, Museum board chair Joan Chismire said.

“We may even set up a little area for kids to practice branding a piece of wood,” she said, “so they can really see it for themselves.”

Big changes are also planned at the Ouray County Fairgrounds in Ridgway, where the Board of County Commissioners recently agreed to accept a $350K Great Outdoors Colorado grant to demolish and replace the aged grandstands. According to Ridgway Chamber of Commerce Board member Erin Stadelman, the aging events venue is also about to receive funding for a brand-new arena as well.

“I have been working with an anonymous donor to replace and rebuild our arena,” Stadelman said.   “We have been given the proverbial nod; at this point, we are just waiting for a check.”

The new county-funded bleachers will be built by the Southern Bleachers company, while the $104,000 arena, which is 330 feet long and 150 feet wide, will be purchased from Priefert Manufacturing of Texas and then disassembled and reassembled on site by local volunteers, Stadelman said.

“This will be the largest outdoor arena in Western Colorado,” she added.