The annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival has its origins in what could have been a conflict between herds of animals being moved from their summer range and people trying to use the Wood River Trail system, commonly referred to as the bike path.
Carey-area rancher John Peavey, one of the festival founders, explained that sheep herders used to move bands along the railroad right-of-way, but when tracks and ties were torn up and the bike trail built in their place, a conflict appeared to be in the making.
"No sooner did that happen than we started getting calls, 'What are your sheep doing on our bike path?'" Peavey said. "But rather than fight it out in the press we decided to invite people out to watch."
An informal trailing of the sheep event occurred for several years until the idea was raised in conversations between Peavey and his wife, Diane, and the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau to formalize the event into a bona fide celebration.
"We used to sneak through town early in the morning or down the bike path or someplace else quiet," Peavey said. "When we came around that corner the first day we were pretty blown away—there were 2,000 sheep and 10,000 people."
That was 13 years ago. Since then the festival, now in its 14th year, has blossomed into much more than just an easier way to move sheep through town.
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The event is now a celebration of the historical significance of sheep ranching in the Wood River Valley and its lasting culinary, cultural, environmental and industrial implications.
In addition to the parade through downtown Ketchum on Sunday, Oct. 10, a host of other sheep-related activities are scheduled for the three-day festival that begins Friday, Oct. 8.
History sessions, poetry readings, sheep tales and storytelling, Basque, Peruvian and Highlander dancers and music, sheep shearing, wool spinning and weaving, and championship sheep dog trials can be enjoyed at the festival. Beyond that, culinary delights can be appreciated at various lamb feasts throughout the valley.
Peavey said this year's band of sheep that will be paraded through town is summering in the Corral Creek area up Trail Creek Road east of Sun Valley. He estimated there are 1,500 sheep in the herd, including ewes with lambs weighing up to 100 pounds.
Once the band is moved through Ketchum, it will continue down the valley to Bellevue, where it will turn east up Muldoon Canyon for the final trek to the Peavey's Flat Top Sheep Ranch in the Little Wood River drainage area north of Carey.
Peavey has another sheep herd grazing up the East Fork area.
"The others will have to make their way to the ranch on their own without all the hoopla," Peavey said.