Sheep festival planned
Sheep enthusiasts, history lovers and everyone in between is invited to attend the 26th Annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival Oct. 5-9 in the neighboring towns of Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley, Idaho in the Wood River Valley Region. Each fall, the festival honors the 150 plus year annual tradition of moving sheep from high mountain summer pastures down through the Wood River Valley to traditional winter grazing and lambing areas in the south.
The festival celebrates the sheep, herders, history and food of this unique cultural tradition of Idaho’s sheep ranching families.
Trailing of the Sheep Festival Executive Director Laura Drake says the festival’s mission is “to gather, celebrate, present and preserve the history and cultures of sheepherding in Idaho and the West.”
She says passing on the stories and history of sheepherders is becoming increasingly crucial for the survival of the industry.
“Each year, the festival strives to keep the stories and history of sheepherding alive,” she says. “Even if people don’t see as much open land around them or roaming animals, they can still learn about the history and culture of this region of sheepherding and ranching in Idaho and in the West.”
The festival had a humble beginning, with just a few curious people starting it all. A few years prior to the official start of the festival in 1996, the Blaine County Recreation District wanted to put in a paved trailway connecting various townships in the Wood River Valley for recreational use, says Drake.
“In order to put the paved bypath in, the district had to approach the ranchers and get their permission,” Drake says. “The ranchers gave it the okay, but said the sheep would still need to trail up and down the valley.”
John Peavey, third-generation sheep rancher, was state senator at the time. He received a few complaints from recreationists after the pathway was constructed.
“Several people recreating, maybe new to town or unfamiliar with the history of sheep in the area, were finding some leftover droppings from the sheep stuck in their bike wheels, roller blade wheels, etc., and they started to call and complain,” says Drake.
Peavey offered to teach these people the history of herding sheep over a cup of coffee at a local café and invited people to help trail the sheep through the valley to keep them off the path. People seemed to love the small, informal, educational event, and they continued to show up for coffee year after year.
“After a few years of these coffee talks and small trailings, Peavey and a few others realized there was potential for a festival,” says Drake. “The festival was officially born in 1996 and it has grown into a five-day festival with about 30 plus events.”
Over the years, the festival has been recognized by different organizations and publications as one of the best in the world, including being recognized as one of the Top 10 Fall Festivals in the World by msn.com, Top Seven Fall Festivals by National Geographic, Top 10 U.S. Fall Festivals by smartertravel.com, Top Animal Festivals in the World and Top 10 Fall Festivals by USA Today, Top Seven Fun Fall Festivals by the American Association of Retired Persons, One of the Greatest Cultural Events in the West by Northwest Travel and is a recipient of the Society of American Travel Writer’s Phoenix Award for best in cultural tourism, as well as the Idaho Governor’s Award for Cultural Heritage.
The festival has seen extreme expansion and growth over the years.
“We have gone from a few people standing on the sidewalk 26 years ago watching the sheep go by for the parade, to about 10,000 people watching the parade,” says Drake.
She says about 25,000 people visit the festival over the course of five days, including locals and visitors. Last year, visitors came from 49 states and multiple countries.
This year’s festival offers a multitude of different events including a sheep parade, sheepdog trials, sheep folklife fair, sheep storytelling, culinary events, wool fest and more. The wool fest offers a chance for participants to learn about the many ways wool is crafted into products including clothing and art.
Multiple sheepdog trials will take place this year where viewers learn how dogs are trained and how the dogs control sheep herds.
“Our sheepdog trials continue to grow,” says Drake. “We have a national qualifying sheepdog trial over the course of three and a half days open to the public where we will try to run 110 dogs this year.”
Visitors will have the opportunity to learn how to cook lamb during a variety of different intimate cooking classes at this year’s festival. Farm to table dinners will boast a four-course dinner featuring local lamb and menu items.
“Local ranchers will be at the dinners to share their stories of sheep ranching in Idaho and answer any questions,” says Drake.
The Sheep Tales Gathering features unique stories about sheep ranchers in the West.
“This year, we are bringing in several women ranchers from the West to share the stories of how they took over or started their ranches,” says Drake. “People will have the chance to hear the voices from the land – these unique stories of women in ranching will be especially provoking this year.”
The Big Sheep Parade is always the highlight of the festival, when 1,500 sheep parade down the main street of Ketchum, Idaho with sheep ranching family members and herders headed south.
“We bring the sheep down Main Street in Ketchum versus the natural sheep driveway so we can all celebrate them together,” says Drake.
Drake says she is looking forward to bringing everyone together for another festival to “celebrate the animals, ranchers, stories and to keep the industry alive and well.”
“We are excited to bring another festival and invite all to come and join us,” says Drake.
Kaitlyn Root is an editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.