John F. Russell: Even a City Slicker can find a place at Routt County Fair |

John F. Russell: Even a City Slicker can find a place at Routt County Fair

— What can I say, I put the “city” in the phrase city slicker.

I grew up just south of Denver in unincorporated Arapahoe County. Sure, the county may have been unincorporated at the time, but it was the definition of suburban.

Yes, it's true that you could drive just a few miles down the road and find wide-open spaces filled with cows, steers and wildlife — but riding in the back seat of my parent’s car was about as close as I ever got to becoming a rancher.

Horses and cowboys were just a stone's throw from the house where I grew up, but make no mistake, most of the horse power in the area was found under the hoods of the cars that flew past my parent's home down Dry Creek Road and were filled with drivers on their way to work, strip malls and grocery stores. I grew up in the heart of suburbia, and my exposure to the agricultural community was limited, at best.

That all changed when I came to Steamboat Springs, but it's going to take more than 25 Routt County Fairs to turn this city boy into a rancher. It's not that I'm not trying, or that I don't appreciate the hard work local ranchers put in every day. They work non-stop raising cattle that contribute to every community — even those who have no idea where that McDouble they just ordered from McDonalds comes from.

The first time I came face-to-face with a bull, a bucking bronco or a calf running across the arena floor was the first time I covered a rodeo in Steamboat Springs. The event provided me with a solid introduction to cowboys, but it was at the fair that my eyes were opened to how much work and pride a rancher takes in raising a steer, pig, goat or rabbit.

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The fair introduced me to the agricultural community and what it means to a town like Steamboat Springs. Each year, I am reminded what agriculture means when I attend the events that surround the Routt County Fair, and every year, I am reminded that I'm a city slicker.

It doesn't bother me; after all, I grew up in the city. But this is not the same for the boys and girls who competed in last week's exhibit day or the ones who will bring their livestock to the Routt County Fair next week.

Their love for the ranching lifestyle isn't something they learned in one day. It's a gift handed down by their parents and grandparents. It’s something they wear on their sleeves, and they display it in the way they dress. When you attend exhibit day, you can see it in their eyes as they wait to be interviewed, and you can see it in the details they include in their record books, and you can see it in their projects when they are finished.

Sure, there are more than a few first-generation fair families represented at the Routt County Fair, which runs Aug. 13-16, but they normally have some background in ranching or caring for animals. Those families that don't have that background are willing to buy into the lifestyle and give the time and money it takes to make the projects successful. In their hearts, they want what the fair offers and are willing to change their lives to make it possible. I enjoy the fair, but it is clear that I am not one of those people.

Every year I show up to the events wearing tennis shoes, and I don't own a single pair of cowboy boots in a town that prides itself on a long-running western tradition. But that doesn't mean I don't have a deep appreciation for the 4-H children who take part of their summers to raise goats, lambs and steers. These are children who learn that chickens are living creations, not just an item in the meat department at City Market, Safeway or Natural Grocers. These children understand where their food comes from and the incredible amount of time, effort and money that goes into raising an animal.

It's something many children who grew up in the city just can's understand. It's something that starts when you are a child and remains in your blood when you are an adult.

I've tried to expose my children to 4-H in Steamboat Springs, but it's difficult to raise a large animal, or even a small one on my Steamboat II estate west of Steamboat Springs. It really has nothing to do with the space — personally, my cats are lucky if they get fed each day — and it's a good week when I find time to mow my yard. A project that required caring for a steer … well … I have no idea where to start.

Still, that has not kept my family from enjoying 4-H and the skills it teaches us. My daughter is in her third year of sewing and has learned so much in that time. The Routt County 4-H offers more than a few programs that don't have anything to do with raising an animal, programs ranging for shooting to scrapbooking to photography.

The programs are a great place to get introduced to the skills it takes to pursue any hobbies, and the programs provide an opportunity to take part in the Routt County and state fairs.

Yes, it's true I may be a city slicker. But thanks to the programs offered by 4-H and the Routt County Fair, some of northern Colorado's fine agricultural traditions seem to be finding their way into my blood.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966