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One of the most exciting parts of the upcoming Bitterroot Glory Days celebration is the return of the National Senior Pro Rodeo to the valley and the Ravalli County Museum is grabbing the steer by the horns and helping to kick the celebration off with a host of rodeo-related events.

Foremost among the museum's offerings is their newest exhibit "Past to Present - The Sport of Rodeo," which opens Thursday, July 1.

The exhibit includes a wide array of historical rodeo memorabilia and houses the National Senior Professional Rodeo Hall of Fame.

"We really didn't have a place for it until we brought it back out to the museum here," said steer wrestler Dan Stringari, NSPRA board member and two-time NSPRA Reserve World Champion.

The Hall of Fame used to be housed in the NSPRA's national office, which was located in Hamilton until about three years ago. When the office moved to Wickenburg, Ariz., much of the memorabilia went into storage.

But now, the association's history is back on display, just in time for local rodeo fans.

"Really, Rodeo Legends is what the concept is," said museum director Tamar Stanley. "We've layered on a lot of the history of rodeo. The providence of the belt buckles and hats and the meaning of the spurs and all of those kinds of things. So, we're learning a ton as we do this."

Visitors to the exhibit will be able to glean the technical and traditional uses of the rodeo riders' equipment and a glimpse of the rodeo lifestyle.

"We have an explanation of all the tools and resources of the cowboy. Why 12 different kinds of spurs? Why five different kinds of hats? How did the bandanas start?" said Stanley. "We have a lot of just exquisite Western memorabilia: fabulous spurs from the early 1900s and belt buckles that inductees have donated back to the hall of fame."

The exhibit and hall of fame's grand opening will mark the official kickoff of Bitterroot Glory Days with a Western-flavored party that will feature a barbecue with no-host bar, trick roping, cowboy poetry, auctions, music and a branding party.

The event will feature appearances by hall of fame members, Ravalli County Rodeo Queens and contestants in the weekend's rodeo.

"Their first stop after they get their stock squared away at the fairgrounds is here at the barbecue," Stanley said.

Local chainsaw artist Lisa Foster will also be unveiling her newest work: a life-size bucking horse and rider that will be displayed on the museum's front lawn.

Made from three Ponderosa pine logs dovetailed together by woodworker Jody Crawford, the piece depicts a cowboy atop a horse in full buck, with all four hooves off the ground. The piece was a challenge, said Foster, especially trying to accurately capture the motion and energy of the moment depicted.

"The most difficult part was the back legs kicking out," Foster said. "To look at a horse flying in the air like that ... You can see them standing up and laying down but you've never seen them kick for more than two seconds. So, that was hard."

In addition to the exhibit and barbecue, the museum is also holding a rodeo photography contest. The winning photos will grace the poster and program cover for next year's rodeo.

And there will be silent and live auctions of a number of items, including Western artwork and leather work by artists such as Angelika Harden-Norman, Joe Keeton, Heyoka Merrifield, Chuck Wroble, Tom Thornton and Tina DeWeese.

Much of the proceeds from the auctions and rodeo events will go toward funding a new local scholarship. The "Pursuit of Excellence" scholarship originated in Billings and is aimed at providing financial assistance for higher education to members of the Montana High School Rodeo Association.

"The only criteria I set is that they're active members of the rodeo and they've achieved academic excellence and can prove need for assistance going on to any form of higher education," said museum artist liaison Ronnie Freeman who did much of the legwork in setting up the local branch of the scholarship fund.

The auction artwork is now being displayed at the museum and many of the pieces have reserve prices with which patrons can buy them without bidding.

According to Stanley, the whole series of events is part of a push by the museum to expand its appeal to the public.

"We're really looking for new and interesting events. We're pulling back on some of our traditional fundraisers and trying to feature innovative ideas that will keep the public engaged," she said. "It's a ton of work, but it's a ton of fun."

The grand opening barbecue gets going at 4 p.m. on July 1 at the museum with events running through the evening up until 8 p.m. when the Bop-A-Dips take the stage. Tickets are $20.

Bitterroot Glory Days begins the next day at the Ravalli County Fairgrounds. The Senior Pro Rodeo runs from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, June 2, with the finals taking place the following evening.

Reporter Will Moss can be reached at 363-3300 or