By Tiffany Williams
Each year the trailers fill up over the summer at the Frank Mickey Campgrounds, especially during stampede time. During the 2008 Ponoka Stampede more than 4,000 trailers were counted at the campsite and surrounding area. There are people from all walks of life and many travelers from all over North America, including Alaska.
Dick and Cathy Mackey have lived in Alaska for 46 years, Nenana, which is 50 miles south west of Fairbanks to be exact and now winter in Arizona. They subscribe to the Professional Rodeo Association newsletter and saw Ponoka was on the way to Calgary and thought where was that? That was 11 years ago and they haven’t missed a year since. They have stopped going to the Calgary Stampede and travel 2,000 miles from Fairbanks to Ponoka and back.
“We’ve traveled 42,000 miles coming to Ponoka. That has to set a record of some sort,” said Dick.
They keep the same seats every year, section two row eight and they are friends with those around them and they both say that Ponoka is extremely friendly and outgoing.
“We’ve done other rodeos but this is the best one,” said Dick.
They enjoy the fact that they are able to camp right on the grounds, which they consider an added bonus and the fact the Ponoka Stampede has it all including rodeo action, chariot races and chuckwagons.
“Everyone makes you feel a part of the community,” said Cathy sitting in the couple’s trailer with their chocolate lab Mollie who has been traveling with them since day one and Jenna, a Britney spaniel, who was on her fourth trip to Ponoka. “This is the rodeo to come to or we would not come this far. This is the one rodeo we concentrate on coming to every year.”
“We don’t travel to the Canadian Finals because it is too far to come and we have gone to the National Finals Rodeo but you can’t really see the action there. I don’t know anywhere else that is as friendly as Ponoka.”
The couple retired in 1990 after owning a truck stop 60 miles above the Arctic Circle for nine years. Before that they homesteaded in Alaska, did construction and worked as contractors.
Dick and Cathy met while working on the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. Dick was one of the founders of the 1,150 mile race from Anchorage to Nome and Cathy was the office manager. Dick and two of their sons have won the race and all four of their sons have competed in the trek. Their 38 year-old son Lance won the Iditarod, he is the two time defending champion and the Yukon quest four times. As Dick speaks of his eight children he beams with pride and notes that Lance is the only person to have won the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod in the same year, they are only 10 days apart.
They have toyed with the idea of moving to Ponoka but with their American citizenship they say that things get tricky sometimes. Their kids already think that they are crazy and their friends shake their heads at them for traveling 4,000 miles each year. It takes them five days to drive and they usually arrive about a week early in order to get a good spot. Although they haven’t made the move here just yet they have embraced Ponoka as they have made their way to explore the town. Mentioning the Farmer’s Market and all the goodies they have picked up there, they both shake their heads and say they have paid their dues purchasing yummy items.
When they try to think of one memory that stands out they say that everything overall makes it a very pleasant experience for them from the shuttle to the concerts to the atmosphere.
“When you add the whole thing together you can’t get any better. It’s our big annual event and we have a lot of fun,” said Dick.
They agree that they both really like Canada and especially Ponoka. The park continues to get better for them including the new washrooms and showers, which they consider outstanding and the hard work from the staff, especially Frank Mickey really make a difference.
As they pack up their trailer for this year, Cathy will be sure to file her program with her others, Mollie and Jenna anxiously wait to get back to Alaska but for Cathy and Dick they can’t wait to come back next year to visit Ponoka and enjoy their 12th Ponoka Stampede.