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For the week of August 30 through September 5, 2000

Crown jewel of the West

Once growth mania overtakes a town, a community's heritage too often gets lost in the rush to ditch the old and embrace the new. The consequence is that a town loses its soul and memories of its rich past.

Not so for Ketchum, where many folks with a reverent eye for the beauty of the past diligently guard irreplaceable remnants of the town's colorful history as a boom-to-bust mining and smelter center.

The most colorful reminder of Ketchum's heritage is Wagon Days, an annual weekend of events staged to preserve and promote history from one generation to another.

Without minimizing other activities, the crown jewel of this celebration is Saturday's Wagon Days parade.

And for those who've yet to see the parade—and even those who see it year after year—there's that moment when gasps of utter amazement go up from thousands lining the route as the "Big Hitch" comes into view as the finale to the 100 or so units passing in review.

Six huge ore wagons more than 100 years old, pulled by a team of 12 mammoth Percheron horses, is a sight of breathtaking proportions as the Big Hitch rounds the Main Street and Sun Valley Road corner while brakemen control the huge train.

There's another story, however, that needs to be told about this year's parade—the story of a few who've pitched in throughout the entire year to bring together so many horse-drawn units, bands and colorful participants to make Wagon Days the West's largest non-motorized parade on a budget of just $60,000.

Two volunteers who've fitted in Wagon Days between their other considerable professional duties for 22 years—state Rep. Wendy Jaquet and Dr. Max Thompson—have decided this is their last year. So, too, has a colleague of theirs, Diane Cordes, who signed on as a volunteer 17 years ago.

This time next year, the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber of Commerce will be running the show.

The achievements of Rep. Jaquet, Dr. Thompson and Ms. Cordes are formidable—recruiting marching units, finding horses to pull colorful and historical rigs, and inspiring other volunteers to pitch in (not the least of which is Ivan Swaner's Main Street popular cowboy "shootout") to create a weekend of unforgettable memories for thousands of spectators and participants.

But beyond the marching units and the spectator attendance there always was a larger vision and a goal in mind.

It was to create an enduring event giving Ketchum a sense of pride in its past, and an annual reminder to every generation that modern Ketchum is built on a foundation of sacrifice and hardship by pioneers with dreams.


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