CAROGA -- After a 17 year absence, the Paradise Ranch rodeo is coming back to the town of Caroga Friday night.
The rodeo features bull riding, breakaway roping, sheep riding for children, barrel racing, a banana-eating contest and other events. It's run by the Walker family, led by family patriarch Lester Walker, age 85.
Kim Walker, Lester's daughter, said her father held an annual rodeo in Caroga from about 1972 until 2001, when he moved it to Sprakers, where the family owns a 125-acre ranch and raises about 100 head of cattle. She said the family operated a rodeo in Sprakers for a few years.
"We thought it would be bigger there because it was more of a rural area, but, we did it there for three years and it was OK, but then my mom passed away, and we kind of stopped doing them and started leasing [the bulls] to the Double M [ranch in Ballston Spa]," she said.
Paradise Ranch's lease agreement with Double M ended this year, and since they still had the bulls, and not much to do with them, Kim said her father decided to bring a little of the "cowboy life" back to Caroga.
"It was always bigger and better in Caroga, and we have quite the opportunity there," she said.
The Walkers still own the piece of land at 3124 Route 29A where the old rodeos were held. Kim Walker said it cost between $7,000 and $8,000, plus lots of volunteer labor from friends and family, to rebuild the arena and transport all of the equipment, including the pens, the bleachers and pop-up tents.
"Everybody is ecstatic about it on Facebook. We're hoping to pack the house," Kim said.
Lester Walker was unavailable for comment on Wednesday because he was too busy working on the rodeo, Kim said.
"He's a worker. You'd never know he was 85 to look at him," she said.
Carlene Lankton, Lester's girlfriend, said she believes the rodeo will offer another entertainment opportunity for people in Caroga and the region. She said Caroga has been coming back as a tourism town, in part due to the concert series at the former Sherman's amusement park. She said the rodeo will have at least nine bull riders, and possibly more.
"I think Lester is very pleased with it. Some of the old guys are coming back, and they're going to be here. They were here in the old rodeo 17 years ago. It's exciting because they are excited. One guy told me he started here and he'll finish here," she said.
Paradise Ranch rodeo charges for admission and has set three dates, all Friday nights starting at 8 p.m.: Aug. 3, Aug. 10 and Aug. 24.