Sheep legacy: Internationally acclaimed festival showcases sheep
Ketchum, Idaho – As a celebration of sheep herding and ranching in the West, the 21st Annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival with take place on Oct. 4-8 in Ketchum, Hailey and Sun Valley, Idaho.
Trailing of the Sheep Festival Executive Director Laura Musbach Drake explains, “Our mission is to share and celebrate the culture and history of sheep ranching and sheep herding in Idaho and in the West. That is what we aim to do through the festival each year.”
A need for sharing
The Trailing of the Sheep Festival was actually inspired after a recreational bike path was built in the early 1990s on a natural, historical sheep driveway where sheep traveled between summer and winter range, explains Drake.
“People complained because of the sheep droppings on ‘their’ bike path, so Diane and John Peavey, our founders, said, ‘Why don’t we tell the public a little bit about the history of where this bike path went in?’” she continues.
The Peaveys invited community members for coffee to tell the story of the history of sheep production in the region and invited them to come trail sheep with them to take part in the experience.
“A few people showed up that year, and it was just an educational coffee. They did it again the next year. More people showed up, and it continued to grow,” Drake continues.
Many in the community decided it was important to share the story of sheep in Idaho and the West and built upon the educational coffee meetings.
“The formal festival was born 21 years ago,” she states.
Now, the Trailing of the Sheep Festival has grown into a five-day event, attracting approximately 25,000 attendees every year.
“The Trailing of the Sheep has become a bucket list festival. There are people who come from around the world to join us,” says Drake.
Historically, the three primary features of the festival are the Folklife Fair, the Sheep Tales Gathering and the Trailing of the Sheep Parade.
“We’ve also grown to have a huge culinary arm of the festival,” explains Drake. “Some of the culinary events we have are two farm-to-table dinners, six cooking with lamb classes and a dine-around event with nine restaurants where people can have tastings.”
The annual Big Sheep Parade continues to be a highlight of the festival and the culmination of the week, says Drake.
“It’s a highlight because it is not a reenactment. It features sheep that have come down out of the mountains from summer grazing and are heading south for winter grazing. Instead of trailing them on the sheep driveways, we take them down Main Street for all to celebrate.”
The festival also features events including the national qualifying sheep dog trials, the Folklife Fair and several Wool Fest classes.
As a special highlight for this year’s event, Drake explains that the Sheep Tales Gathering, which is historically the storytelling aspect of the festival, will feature the internationally acclaimed documentary “The Shepherdess of the Glaciers.”
“This year we are bringing in a documentary filmmaker from India who did a piece on his sister, who is one of the last shepherdesses in the high Himalayas,” she says. “He did this beautiful documentary, which won international awards. He is coming to screen the film on Friday night with us and then do a question-and-answer session.”
On Saturday night, the annual Sheepherder’s Ball will feature the Idaho-native group Micky and the Motorcars.
According to Drake, festivals such as the Trailing of the Sheep are imperative for preserving history and sharing the importance of the industry.
“Our festival is particularly important to celebrate the history and culture of the sheep industry,” she says.
Historically, the region of Sun Valley, Ketchum and Hailey, Idaho was second in sheep only to Sidney, Australia, says Drake.
“Now, sheep production is a bit of a dying industry to our region,” she comments.
She stresses that the public needs to understand the history of sheep and the impact the sheep industry still has on their daily lives.
“When we are enjoying lamb or wearing wool, it is important to understand the history of our clothes and our food,” Drake continues. “It’s imperative for us to continue this festival to share the stories, to share the history and to celebrate the entire industry.”
Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.