Ellensburg’s once thriving Rodeo Bowl remains abandoned

Joshua Kornfeld, Staff Reporter

Students coming to Ellensburg have a wide range of outdoor activities they can participate in; from hiking to water rafting, the opportunities are endless. One activity that students feel may be missing is a bowling alley. 

Students at CWU may notice the now shuttered Rodeo Bowl on University Way, which closed its doors to the public in 2013 and has not reopened since, according to the Yakima Herald. 

In 2016, The Daily Record reported that businessman Jon Ericson Sr. was looking into leasing the property from the county. The county purchased Rodeo Bowl in 2015 and was open to leasing the property to a new tenant. Plans were never finalized and a lease was not negotiated. County commissioners were hesitant of a plan that would cost taxpayers money, instead preferring a private enterprise to take over operations. 

A similar proposal resurfaced in 2017, The Daily Record reported. Plans were announced that Rodeo Bowl would return as Mel’s Bowl and Fun Center. However due to disagreement between Kittitas County and members of Mel’s Bowl and Fun Center, these plans did not come to fruition.

Nancy Lilliquist is the current Mayor of the City of Ellensburg. Despite the closure of Rodeo Bowl, Lilliquist said she encourages college students to get involved in the Ellensburg community.  

“When students come to Ellensburg and live here, they are citizens of Ellensburg,” Lilliquist said. “We invite them to engage with the community to whatever extent they are able. We have lots of great recreational opportunities in the community.”

According to Lilliquist, in the past, bowling was popular among residents and college students alike. She has heard many people would like the bowling alley to return, but doesn’t know about the economic viability required to be a sustainable business. This would likely be a private enterprise and not a city-funded recreational facility, Lilliquist said.  

The Observer reported in 2015 that Central’s Bowling Club (CBC) had to disband due to logistical hurdles of commuting to Yakima to bowl. Additional teams based in Ellensburg also disbanded.  

Jackie Lott, a freshman in elementary education, enjoys going for walks, hanging out with friends and exploring the town. Lott described the town as small. 

“It can be a little harder to do things because it’s such a small town,” Lott said. “I feel like it’d be better if there were more activities for younger people. It’d be fun to have a bowling alley here, I think a lot of people would use it too.”

Kaya Roonzen, a sophomore  in elementary education, described Ellensburg as friendly and social, with many residents sharing similar interests. Roozen said she was also open to the idea of a bowling alley. 

“That’d be a great event for people to go and make new friends and socialize,” Roonzen said. “Back home we had a bowling alley, and that was always fun to do as a group activity.” 

In 2019, The Observer reported the lack of activities in Ellensburg for those under 21, with a bowling alley being mentioned by nine students as a top activity.  

The Daily Record reported in 2019 that candidates for Kittitas County Commissioner District 1 again discussed their impressions of Rodeo Bowl. One candidate, Cory Wright, described the property as picked over and scavenged, unlikely to see bowlers again.  

With the failed attempts of resurrecting Rodeo Bowl, student interest isn’t enough to restart negotiations. They will have to look elsewhere for recreational activities. Mayor Lilliquist encourages students to visit the Ellensburg city website and get involved in the community.