When Herb Wagner was a kid, he remembers watching his big sister march with a band in the Tucson Rodeo Parade.
More than that, Herb was wowed by the cowboys.
“Everybody wants to be a cowboy,” Wagner said. “After a while, you get older and lose that.”
Then, years later, friends asked him to lend a hand with the parade, and Wagner “basically got hooked.” He’s served on the parade committee since 1986, and today is a public information officer and chairman of entries and lineup for the parade, which paces down Tucson streets for the 86th time on Thursday, Feb. 24, at 9 a.m.
The Tucson Rodeo Parade is “a rolling display of Western heritage,” Wagner said. “It’s a matter of trying to keep that Western heritage alive.”
The parade once made the claim as the longest non-motorized parade in the world, but it’s been big-topped by an elephant parade in Sri Lanka. Local entries have been down, too, though they are comparable to a year ago.
So, rather than compete for some illusory title, Wagner said, “We think of ourselves as the best Western heritage parade in the United States.”
This year’s entries are “in the range of last year,” with about 120 expected, all of them powered by people and/or horses. Last year’s parade featured nearly 900 horses and more than 1,300 people.
There are wagons, buggies, horseback entries, the historical re-enactment of the Mormon Batallion, the B Troop Buffalo Soldiers entry, tribal royalty that includes the Hopi and Tohono O’odham nations, and marching bands from the Canyon Del Oro, Mountain View and Marana high schools in Northwest Tucson.
This year’s parade returns to its traditional path, 2-1/2 miles in length and about an hour on the clock. “We’re back to the longer route this year,” Wagner said, and he’s pleased by it. Hired security is complementing Tucson Police Department officers. A year ago, the route length was shortened by three-quarters of a mile because the city couldn’t commit the manpower.
There is parking at the rodeo grounds lot, accessible only from westbound Irvington. The route itself begins closing at 7 a.m. People can park on the outskirts of the parade and walk to the route. Wagner said organizers are “still investigating avenues” for parking shuttles from the Tucson and Park Place malls.
Wagner said the Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum really got him reconnected. The museum, founded in 1964 and located at the rodeo grounds, showcases the collection of more than 125 wagons, buggies, coaches and sleighs, along with an old Western street scene, a saloon, a tack shop, a blacksmith’s shop, a barber shop, an assayer’s office and “historical things from Tucson itself,” Wagner said. “It’s a nice Western heritage museum,” with its “real focus the wagons and buggies.”
If you go
What: The 86th annual Tucson Rodeo Parade
When: Thursday, Feb. 24, 9 a.m.
Where: Begins at Ajo and Park, then winds south on Park to Irvington, west on Irvington to Sixth Avenue, and north on Sixth Avenue to finish at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds.
Cost: Viewing is free along the parade route. Tickets for seating in the rodeo grounds grandstand, at Irvington between Third and Sixth avenues, are $7 for adults and $5 for children.
For tickets or more information, visit www.tucsonrodeoparade.org, or the rodeo grounds office located at South Sixth and Irvington.