A swath of land across from Roy City Hall transforms into a busy campground twice a year during the small community’s popular rodeos.
But Roy’s new police chief says he’s putting an end to that practice for this weekend’s rodeo. He said the scene was chaotic during the June event, with late-night drinking, campfires and some fights among campers.
The chief’s announcement has drawn both criticism and praise in the south Pierce County city of about 800 people.
One resident, who wouldn’t give her name, said she’s worried the change will hurt the small number of Roy businesses, which see an infusion of customers twice a year thanks to the rodeo.
Allowing people to camp keeps their dollars in the community and takes those who’ve been drinking off the road, she said.
But Mayor Karen Yates said camping on the land has created “a health and safety issue” for the city. She said many Roy residents are glad it’s being addressed.
Mike Erickson, president of the Roy Rodeo Association, said the chief’s action has made waves in the community and that he hopes it won’t affect rodeo attendance. The event draws 2,500 to 3,000 people daily and is a positive event for the community, he said.
“We’ll see what happens,” Erickson said.
The Roy Pioneer Rodeo dates to the 1950s. Rodeo events this Saturday and Sunday begin at 1:30 p.m. at the rodeo grounds off Higgins Greig Road.
The grounds cover nearly 17 acres and sit just outside Roy’s city limits. The land where campers often set up is also within city limits; it belongs to BNSF Railway.
Roy Police Chief Darwin Armitage estimated 100 to 200 people camped there during the June rodeo.
Armitage, who took over as chief in May, said the carousing put a strain on his small department, which includes him and one other full-time officer. (A new reserve officer also is starting.)
City code allows camping in motor homes and similar vehicles on private property for special events with written permission from the chief of police and the property owner. Gus Melonas, a BNSF spokesman, said the railroad’s police department sent Armitage a “letter of authority” to enforce trespassing laws on the BNSF land.
Armitage said he sees this year’s camping change as a temporary solution and that he hopes to work with rodeo officials and perhaps the railroad on a better fix for the future.