Preparations continue on the Stampede grounds in Calgary on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. The rides are up, the stuffed animals displayed at the games tables and concession booths are loaded with supplies. Forced by the pandemic to cancel last year for the first time in its history, the Calgary Stampede has returned. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Preparations continue on the Stampede grounds in Calgary on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. The rides are up, the stuffed animals displayed at the games tables and concession booths are loaded with supplies. Forced by the pandemic to cancel last year for the first time in its history, the Calgary Stampede has returned. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

‘We’re ready to go’: Calgary Stampede to kick off with enhanced safety measures

Forced by the pandemic to cancel last year for the first time in its history, the Calgary Stampede has returned

The rides are up, the stuffed animals are displayed at the games tables and concession booths are loaded with supplies.

Forced by the pandemic to cancel last year for the first time in its history, the Calgary Stampede has returned.

The setup may look familiar but, due to COVID-19, there are some notable changes to the 10-day celebration of cowboy life.

The walkways are wider, there are markers showing proper spacing in lineups and fewer rides.

“We wanted to spread this out, create more social-distancing space, so we brought less rides to achieve that goal,” said Scooter (Greg) Korek, vice-president of client services for North American Midway Entertainment.

“The rides that we didn’t bring were maybe some of our less popular attractions. We brought all the fan favourites.”

Including the ones that cause some riders to throw up?

“Absolutely. That’s our core business.”

Korek grew up in Calgary and joined the midway more than 40 years ago. He said there’s been plenty of practice leading up to the Stampede.

“We’ve been at 45 fairs in the United States and all of our great guys are back and ready to go.”

New safety measures adopted by the Stampede include cutting daily attendance in half, sanitation stations for the public and enhanced cleaning throughout the grounds. Staff and volunteers are required to wear masks and get COVID-19 rapid tests.

The chuckwagon races aren’t being held and the parade to kick off the Stampede is confined to the grounds without the public in attendance.

“What I would say is people need to guide themselves with their own level of comfort. But certainly, we feel very confident that we have created an excellent environment here for people to come in and enjoy themselves,” said Stampede vice-president Jim Laurendeau.

Korek said Calgary is the first stop in Canada and the entire midway’s staff had to be quarantined for two weeks upon arrival. The midway brings with it a full cleaning crew and everyone knows how to keep things sanitized and safe, he said.

“We started in March (with) and our pandemic program, which is pretty extensive: social distancing, mask and gloves. We got really, really good at it.”

The next stop for North American Midway Entertainment is Tulsa, Okla.

Korek wants Stampede visitors to know that there is nothing to be nervous about.

“I’m going to tell you right now: I would put any one of my family members on any one of our rides, any day. We’re ready to go.”

Korek said he understands why the Stampede had to be shut down last year, but as a Calgarian, it was still hard to accept.

“It was really a tough moment when they called it off. It was a heartbreaker. That was really what it was.”

It’s all different this year.

“The eyes of the world are on us. This is a great way to celebrate … the end of this pandemic.”

The Stampede runs until July 18.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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