Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Sheep Trail-Blessedly-On Their Way
The Wooly Sea parts for the two priests and rabbi.
Monday, October 14, 2019


The committee of three just wanted to bless the 1,500 sheep as they moved en masse along Ketchum’s Main Street during Sunday’s Trailing of the Sheep Festival parade.

But some of the sheep weren’t having any of it, even as Rabbi Cantor Robbi Sherwin chanted songs and the Revs. Rob Gieselman and Kathleen Bean intoned, “Bless you. Be the best sheep you can be.”

As they approached the priests and rabbi, one stopped in its tracks and looked wide-eyed and quizzically at the three. Then it led its woolly friends in a wide circle around the three. And, of course, sheep being sheep…they followed.

One Peruvian musician carried a most unusual instrument during the parade.

“When Father Ken (Brannon) was here, they passed so close to him you could see him getting banged around,” said Jay Cutler. “I think the sheep are giving these guys a wide berth because there’s three of them.”

Whatever thecase, the sheep were well-behaved, save for one that went on a short wild tear. And the hundreds of people who lined the street were very appreciative as they watched a tradition that has gone on for a century in the Wood River Valley.

“I have never seen anything like that!” said one woman from Atlanta.

The festival itself had its roots in an election year. The Blaine County Recreation District had just completed a bike path on top of the former railroad bed and historic sheep trail that ran from Ketchum to Bellevue. And the first time sheep ran down the freshly paved bike path, leaving little brown things behind, the phone rang off the hook of the Flat Top Sheep Ranch.

It turned out the instrument was a Paraguayan harp.

“Your sheep are on our bike path,” they told John and Diane Peavey.

“We knew we had to do something as John was running for state senator,” Diane Peavey recounted.

John Peavey put a small ad in the newspaper inviting community members to join them as they herded the sheep down part of the trail that runs all the way to Picabo. And a couple dozen people came out that first year, curious about what it’s like to herd sheep.

As interest ramped up, Carol Waller, executive director at the former Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber of Commerce, suggested they had the makings of a festival.

Paddy McIlvoy and Andy Munter greeted this year’s parade with Mr. Sheepie, a sheep outfitted with hiking poles—or ski poles, if you prefer. “Backwoods is all about having fun,” said McIlvoy, who also staged the store’s first wool sale to commemorate a week of sheep.

“Let’s run the sheep down Main Street,” she said.

“I said, ‘You’re crazy. No one’s going to watch a bunch of sheep go down Main Street,’ ” said Dennis
Burke, foreman for the Flat Top Ranch.

Burke has watched in amazement since as the parade has attracted 15,000 people each year and the festival has been named among the top fall festivals by dozens of publications and travel groups.

In addition to photographers from National Geographic, this year’s  festival has attracted people from as far away as India and South America who joined others Saturday in what may have been a record crowd for the Sheep Folklife Fair in Hailey.

Jima Rice shows off a Passport used in Friday’s lamb dine-around in front of Jack Lane’s old sheep mercantile store.

Among the onlookers: A young couple from Michigan who wanted a weekend getaway and did an online search for a festival that piqued their interest. They were so delighted with their week in Sun Valley they were thinking of returning for Ketchum’s Wagon Days next Labor Day Weekend.

Part of the attraction was seeing not a reenactment but an authentic slice of today’s West.

“Whether anyone shows up or not, the sheep are coming through town,” said John Peavey. ”It’s the real deal.”

The sheep that made their way through Ketchum on Sunday started out on John Faulkner’s ranch near Gooding in April and made a hundred-mile journey to mountain meadows in the Sawtooth Mountains before returning through Ketchum as they headed back home where they will be loaded up and taken to winter pastures along the Colorado River in southern California and Arizona.

It’s a ritual synchronized by the weather, although climate change is presenting some anomalies.

“We used to brag about getting a half-inch of rain,” said John Peavey. “Lately, we’ve been getting two inches at a time. It pushes the rain down into the soil deeper so the wind can’t suck it out like it used to. We’re seeing water in places where water never came out of the ground before.”

The Trailing gives locals the chance to show off the $500 cowboy boots they bought for $80 at the Gold Mine and The Attic thrift stores. And it gives groups like the Peruvians, who now do the lion’s share of sheepherding, a chance to share their cultural dances and music.

“I love this thing,” said Rodolfo Serva, who came from Peru to herd sheep before opening KB’s Burritos.  “It’s a time to bring family, everyone together.”


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