Photo © Trailing of the Sheep Festival
by Audrey Medina
In Idaho’s Wood River Valley, sheep ranching began in the 1860s, eventually growing into the second largest sheep center in the world. After its peak in the 1930s, Basque sheepherders continued to trail sheep into high summer meadows and back through the valley on the way to winter pasture. These days, Peruvians carry on the tradition, and, each fall, the history, heritage and culture of sheep herding are celebrated at the Trailing of the Sheep Festival.
This year’s festival begins on Thursday, October 9th, with lamb cooking demonstrations, wool fiber classes and workshops, and a presentation on “Basque Sheepherders: The End of an Era.”
Storytelling and special presentations will take place throughout the festival. A highlight will be on Friday evening, when rancher, storyteller and broadcaster Hank Vogler will tell tales about the sheep ranching life; joining him will be a panel of old-time ranchers to discuss their challenges, including wildfires, water, wolves and bighorn sheep.
On Friday, local chefs offer tastes of their favorite lamb dishes at venues all around downtown Ketchum. If you miss this event, no worries—restaurants all around the valley will be serving lamb-tastic dishes throughout the entire festival.
If you’ve never seen sheepdogs compete, you’ll want to catch the National Point Qualifying Sheepdog Trials on Friday and Saturday at Quigley Canyon Fields in Hailey where 50 sheepdogs will attempt to drive five wild range sheep through a course of gates and pen them in a timed contest.
One of the more colorful events is Saturday’s Folklife Fair at Roberta McKercher Park in Hailey, featuring the Boise Highlanders, the Oinkari Basque Dancers, the Peruvian Dancers and Musicians and the Polish Highlanders of North America. Enjoy a feast of specialty lamb dishes, watch sheep shearing demonstrations and even a plein air art competition. Meander through the booths for wool and fiber art from around the world, as well as some fine regional photography, paintings, and crafts.
The festival climaxes on Sunday with the Trailing of the Sheep parade. Musicians, dancers, and sheep wagons lead the way for nearly 2,000 sheep as they trail down Ketchum’s main street on their way to winter pasture.