After the 2021 National Western Stock Show was canceled for only the second time in its 116-year history, the state's agricultural community and Denver residents are chomping at the bit for its return Jan. 8.

“It’s part of the fabric of Colorado,” said Paul Andrews, the event's president and CEO. “If you live in Colorado, you make the pilgrimage to the National Western Stock Show at least once a year.”

That’s also evidenced by the high national interest — livestock owners from 42 states registered to show animals at the 2022 show, which runs through Jan. 23. More than 700,000 people are expected to participate in the 16-day celebration of agriculture, rodeo, commerce and Western heritage, Andrews said.

And while no one was happy that the show was canceled in 2021 due to COVID-19, it gave officials time to complete the new stockyards and a stockyards events center on the National Western Center Authority campus.

“Start with the grand opening of the new stockyards. That alone makes this year's ticket a historic keepsake,” said Andrews, noting the last time the show had a stockyard grand opening was in 1906.

“These stockyards will forever change the way livestock are marketed in the United States,” Andrews said.

The authority was created in 2015 with an agreement between the Western Stock Show Association, Colorado State University System and the city and county of Denver. It oversees the National Western Stock Show land that makes up the National Western Complex and Denver Coliseum.

Denver voters approved a measure in 2015 to fund the first two phases of the master plan, which called for the new stockyards, a new events center, equestrian center and trade show area. Bonds totaling $778 million were issued through a 1.75% tourism tax on hotel rooms and rental cars.

Stock show and non-stock show spending is projected to reach almost $180 million annually, with total tax impacts of $11.4 million, after the complex construction is finished in 2024, according to the National Western Center Authority website.

“Incremental new taxes are projected to be $5.1 million of that annual total, with $4.3 million attributed to out of town visitors,” it states.

“The stock show is the first user of our new facilities,” said Brad Buchanan, CEO of the authority. “Folks haven’t been here in two years. It’s going to be a real eye-opener for them.”

It’s also going to be a welcome eye-opener for the livestock, which previously were washed outside in freezing temperatures with cold water.

At the new stockyards, power will be provided to every pen and for the first time tempered water will be available.

“We’re the only place in the world that’s ever done that and figured it out,” Andrews said of the powered pens. “So if it’s 10 degrees and you want to wash your animal in 70-degree water, you can do that. It’s a stark advancement in livestock showing that’s only happening right here in Denver, Colorado.”

The new stockyards event center has two show rings and an auction area. Andrews said: “We’ve never had those combined in the history of the stock show.”

The show kicks off with a downtown parade at noon Jan. 6. More than 30 Longhorn steers will march down 17th Street from Union Station and end up in the lobby of the Brown Palace Hotel, a longtime tradition.

In a break from tradition, instead of one person being named the grand marshal, all Colorado first responders were chosen.

“Nurses, doctors, EMTs, and police and fire — they’ll all be there leading,” Andrews said. “Well, they’ll be behind the steers — no one wants those horns behind them. That’s going to be a fun tradition to continue.”

While the parade officially ends at 17th and Glenarm, parade participants will for the first time head back toward Union Station on 18th Street, culminating at McGregor Square across from Coors Field. Organizers will hold a Stock Show Fair there, with photo ops with a Brahma bull from Kodiak Ranch, McNicholas Miniatures therapy horses, Colorado Fiddlers, Western royalty and a food market from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Another new feature will be a wine bar in the expo hall.

“We’ve just kind of been all about Coors beer here. We always have been, and frankly we always will. But we do know there’s a segment of the market that would really enjoy a wine tasting area,” Andrews said.

“If you ask 1,000 people what the stock show means to them, you’d likely get 1,000 different answers. Some will tell you about the amazing livestock summit, others will tell you about the best rodeo they’ve ever seen and still others will say the shopping experience on acres and acres. And still others will say the red beer down at the cowboy bar is unlike anything they’ve ever drank," Andrews said. "So it’s hard to rein in exactly how to answer that.”