Celebration of a Decade: An interview with Jon Wootten
By Alexandra Pettit
10 years ago, Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek started as a small hometown rodeo. It is no surprise that as the town of Queen Creek and the surrounding areas have grown, so has the rodeo. Today Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek is one of the towns biggest annual events and draws people from all over the valley truly making it MORE THAN A RODEO. Jon Wootten is the current President and has been for the last decade since a group of friends and him formed Friends of Horseshoe Park back in 2010.
Alexandra: Give a little background on you, and what you do for Roots N’ Boots?
Jon: We have lived in Queen Creek 21 years and our two daughters have grown up here. My wife and I formed Friends of Horseshoe Park (FOHP) in 2010 with a few friends because we saw that a non-profit could help Horseshoe Park (HPEC) in ways not available to a town owned facility.
I have been president of FOHP since its creation and am president of the Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek (RnBQC) rodeo committee as a result. As President, I run our regular meetings and am our primary liaison with the Town of Queen Creek staff and elected officials. During the rodeo I primarily help with our guests and fill in wherever help is needed, as well as watching the how the event works as a whole and looking forward to how we can improve.
Alexandra: How have you seen a change in this event from the first year?
Oh yes, Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek has changed a lot. The first year we (FOHP) were only responsible for the rodeo part of the event, since the Town of Queen Creek was the organizer. We did that with mostly just our Board of Directors and a few other volunteers. Now Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek is organized by a committee of 45 (a dozen or so in our Youth Committee) and executed by that committee along with the help of over 100 people to volunteer their time during Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek.
We have gone from two nights of rodeo and vendors to now four nights of rodeo, and we added a carnival and will have other activities and events going in the three outdoor arenas. The first Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek had an attendance of about 8,000 people. Last year we hosted 22,000 people over three days, and will increase that number this year since Thursday night is full of fun.
We have been fortunate to keep Banner Ironwood Medical Center as our Presenting Sponsor for many years now, and that multi-year relationship allows stability for planning and the partnership pushes us to expand our presence in the community, which is a very good thing.
Alexandra: Has the growth of the town come with any challenges for this event?
Jon: Not in a bad way. The growth of the Town has certainly helped grow our event, which has brought the usual issues any growing event has – primarily parking and continuing to provide a low cost, quality event for an increasing number of visitors. With Riggs being open to the east of Ellsworth, the traffic in front of HPEC will change, but we always have Maricopa County Sheriffs Office to help in that regard, so we are ready.
Alexandra: Where do you see Roots N’ Boots 10 years from now?
Jon: Wow. Great question. Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek will certainly continue to grow in small ways, like different events in the outdoor arenas, but significant growth will only be by expanding the number of event days. Concerts are a possibility, as is adding more rodeo performances and different kinds of events in the outdoor arenas. Any additional event days will be dependent on the Town of Queen Creek, since they donate HPEC for Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek, and the continued ability for us to attract and keep the kind of energized, committed committee members like we have now.
Alexandra: How has the town benefited from RnB?
Jon: There is probably a little economic benefit to the local town businesses as Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek attendees spend money in town, but the primary town benefit is through using Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek as a showcase of Queen Creek.
We host Town VIPs (such as the owner of Hampton Inn, the new hotel being constructed downtown), as well as VIPs from Visit Mesa, to come enjoy rodeo and the feel of Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek.
We also benefit HPEC by bringing to the park a huge number of visitors who otherwise would not see what all the park has to provide. Once they see the facility and start to understand the year round event calendar, some come back to watch equine events, or racing, or dog shows, and this benefits the Park by enhancing the experience of the event promoters who pay money to come to HPEC.
Alexandra: What has been your favorite thing about this event each year?
Jon: That’s tough. Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek was founded as a way to celebrate Queen Creek’s rural heritage, and the way we do that is to provide agricultural themed events and activities.
So, my favorite aspect is still seeing kids interact with goats, pigs, chickens, cattle, horses, etc. I love seeing the excitement and smiles that come with that interaction. Scenes like kids in the Special Kids Rodeo brushing a mini-horse, or participants in Kids N’ Kritters catching a goat or riding a sheep, or just one of our many, many mounted participants stops their horse and lets a kid pet the animal. These kinds of interactions leave me knowing the hours and hours of work to put on Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek are worth it in the smiles and memories we give kids (young and old).
Alexandra: Anything else you would like mentioned?
Jon: Our volunteers are just amazing. As I mentioned, the Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek organizing committee is about 45 individuals who spend 9 months of the year planning Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek. They give so much time and energy through the year, and then most of them spend 5 full days at HPEC (since setup starts on Wednesday morning) to make sure the event runs smoothly. Many taking time off from work and/or actually staying on the grounds the entire time. Then we have the additional volunteers who give of their time and energy during Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek. So many of these folks are returning volunteers who take on multiple shifts across multiple days, that I am always amazed.
Then our Youth Committee. These “kids” take on significant responsibilities and really make a difference, from helping our sponsor committee, to site setup, to running our social media presence. This year they are hosting a Youth Dance on Thursday night, which was one of the items they brought to the overall committee as a possible improvement in Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek. While the support of the Town of Queen Creek and Banner Ironwood Medical Center makes Roots N’ Boots Queen Creek possible, its our volunteers who make it the incredible family event it is.