The 31st Annual Mark Twain Rodeo starts tomorrow, June 29, in what has become a traditional start to the Fourth of July celebration activities for the Mark Twain Lake area.

The 31st Annual Mark Twain Rodeo starts tomorrow, June 29, in what has become a traditional start to the Fourth of July celebration activities for the Mark Twain Lake area.

From relatively humble beginnings at the first Mark Twain Lake Rodeo in 1987, the event has grown to be the lake’s largest annual celebration. The Tri-City Commission has been responsible for coordinating and organizing the rodeo for three decades.

In the spring of 1986, Dave Benson, then president of the Monroe City Area Chamber of Commerce, and Joe Harlow, then president of the Perry Area Chamber of Commerce, met for the first time to discuss a joint activity at Mark Twain Lake. They soon asked the Paris Area Chamber of Commerce to join in the endeavor and the Tri-City Commission was born.

The original goal of the organization was to promote tourism and economic development around Mark Twain Lake, with the three communities working as a team for all the benefit. Harlow became the first president of the Tri-City Commission. From the beginning, the organization has featured numerous donated hours from dozens of volunteers around the area towns to make the rodeo happen.

It was decided to have the first ever rodeo in the South Spillway Recreation area below Cannon Dam on July 3-4, 1987. The two-day rodeo became one of the most talked about events at the lake. Officials estimated that as many as 10,000 people visited the South Spillway Area below the dam during the two days for the rodeo, queen contest, fireworks display and food. The event also drew 327 cowboys, making it one of the largest rodeos in the state in 1987.

After only its first year, participating cowboys voted the Mark Twain Lake Rodeo as the second-best rodeo in the state. The following three years, the event went one step further, when it was named top rodeo in the state in 1988, 1989 and 1990. Since then, the local rodeo has garnered countless awards for excellence. In 1991, the rodeo was expanded to a three-day event.