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Trailing of the Sheep - Don't Get Left Behind

2 Oct 2018
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Just when you thought your Idaho vacation could not get any better, it does. October in Sun Valley ushers in a mild chill in the air as the vibrant colors of fall make themselves heard. Yes, you might get a snowflake or two…but, locals will tell you that October in Sun Valley is undeniably one of the best months of the year. For the most part, high tourist season is over, and the town is moderately quiet. Even so, there is still loads to do and see.

October in Sun Valley comes with two outstanding festivals running the show. But, whether attending the Sun Valley Jazz Festival or the internationally recognized Trailing of the Sheep Festival, make sure to leave time for strolling through town, hearing live music, catching a movie, enjoying a warm afternoon hike, or a bike ride courtesy of the Wood River Trail system.  Wait – did we mention - and then skip over – Trailing of the Sheep? Of course, we did! Let’s fix that!

October’s annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival in the Wood River Valley is a 5-day celebration of the area's history. With events and activities held throughout the Wood River Valley, T of TS has been drawing in and entertaining folks from around the world for over 20 years. It’s historical, cultural and educational.  It’s interactive, creative, tasty, and so extraordinary that it has been called "One of the Top 10 Fall Festivals in the World" by MSN Travel and has been included in USA Today's coverage of 10 Best Fall Festivals in America. It is so much fun,  you will return year after year. But, wait.... sheep? Really? Why celebrate sheep?

Here is what we know….

Sheepherding is a large part of the Wood River Vally's history. And, as a matter of fact, in 1860, the headcount for sheep in the Wood River Valley was about 14,000. As the population grew from mining interest, the role of sheep within the local economy became even more significant. With our harsh Idaho winters and limited access to this part of the country by way of the BIG HITCH, you can imagine how essential sheep were as a source of both food and warmth. But, truth be told, the sheepherders in the Wood River Valley supplied their wares to other areas. With the sheep count of 1890 at 614,000 increasing to 2.65 million head by 1918, it’s simple math that recognized Ketchum as second only to Sydney Australia when it came to sheep.  We know - that's impressive for a mountain town in the middle of nowhere!

Wait, there is more.....

Back in the early days, folks came from around the world planting roots in the Wood River Valley while putting blood, sweat, and tears into sheepherding. Let’s do some namedropping. There were the Lanes, the Laidlaws, the Thomas family and, of course, the Peavys. In the mid-1850’s the Basques made their way to Idaho.  There were the Cenarrusas, the Etcheverrys, the Guerrysand, the Oxarangos, and many others. Time went on, and life continued in what many called sheep county. Much to the chagrin of the ranchers, development happened, and city folk moved into town. By the mid-1900’s, many large parcels were being sold off.  Thus, the plan was hatched for the first Trailing of the Sheep Festival in 1997 to educate the WRV’s newcomers of our rich sheepherding and ranching history and cultural heritage. And, that is precisely what it has done.

The 2018 Trailing of the Sheep Festival runs October 10-14th and includes events and activities for all.  Throughout the whole weekend, you’ll discover Sheep Tales Storytelling, multiple Farm to Table dinners, and a unique local sheepherders and ranchers Q and A at the Community Library. There are on-going demonstrations of life in the old days, as well as films and documentaries specific to the festival. You can test your culinary skills with Cooking with Lamb Classes. Creative types can challenge themselves with a variety of Wool Fest Classes. The opportunity to explore are endless.

But, where do you start?  Friday evening’s For The Love Of Lamb is a must do!  Local Ketchum restaurants offer distinct and unique lamb bites to passersby in celebration of the weekend. It’s fun! It’s tasty! And, at just $20 per wristband, it’s a lamb lover’s dream come true. If you don’t get enough, the town’s restaurant’s will inspire you with their own unique lamb specials just for the weekend.

Not to be missed on Saturday, is the incredible Sheep Folklife Fair at Roberta McKercher Park in Hailey. Known as Lamb Fest, you'll find an abundance of delicious foods inspired by our heritage. There are vendors, local crafters, and artists. Watch, listen and learn from the cultural music and Basque dancers performing in traditional dress. There are more wool classes and demonstrations including how to use a spindle!  There is a kid’s craft tent inspired by the weekend's events and led by the local 4H groups. Learn about felting and the many uses of wool. There is more storytelling about sheep and wool, and even a Make It With Wool Contest. There are sheepdog demonstrations, sheep shearing exhibitions, and even authentic sheepherders’ wagons. Saturday finishes off with "Sheep Jam" featuring cocktails, a buffet dinner, and entertainment at Whiskey Jacques in Ketchum.

Sunday wraps up the weekend with more classes, a Sheepherder’s hike, and the cream of the crop (or flock), the Big Sheep Parade and Picnic. What’s that you ask? Imagine, 1500 sheep making their way south down Main Street through Ketchum.  Yup! This is our version of a traffic jam! For an even more true effect, the Big Sheep is led by descendants of local sheepherding families.

Seeing this always gives each and every one of us a deeper appreciation of how the west was conquered and how it should be valued. We love our Idaho and want to share its unique qualities with visitors. Whether passing through or staying a while, enjoy. Take a moment to imagine yourself living in the 1850’s. You’ll be impressed and grateful for the settlers of days gone by.