Residents of and visitors to the state of Idaho might be aware of certain aspects of its history and how that history shaped the area: the Oregon Trail, the exploration of Lewis and Clark, potato farming. But another great influence on our state’s history is the herding and raising of sheep, a practice that began in the West in the 16th and 17th centuries when they were brought over by the Spanish.
In the Wood River Valley, the herding or “trailing” of sheep has its own history, one that is celebrated each October with the annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival. From what began as just a group of people interested in learning the history of the sheep over coffee has 25 later grown into an award-winning, multiday festival.
This year’s festival, taking place Oct. 6 — 10, will feature all of the amazing cultural events patrons have come to know and love, especially after last year’s festival hiatus due to COVID.
“We’re excited to be back,” said Trailing of the Sheep Executive Director Laura Drake. “Like so many we were sad to take a hiatus last year, but we’re hoping for a wonderful festival.”
To learn more of the culture and history of sheep herding, there will be numerous opportunities to learn visually in the form of several exhibitions around town and orally from talks, storytelling, and Q&As with ranchers, historians, and friends.
To enjoy the cuisine of lamb, try a cooking class, several farm-to-table dinners, lamb specials at restaurants around town, and the For the Love of Lamb tasting event. The Folklife Fair runs all day Saturday in Hailey and features sheep shearing demonstrations, live bagpipers, Peruvian and Basque dancers, sheep wagons on display, kids’ activities, and so much more!
On Friday and Saturday, crafters will enjoy Wool Fest, two days of classes and workshops dedicated to wool. From needle-felting to dyeing to learning skinnfelling, the Norweigan art of ink on sheepskin, there’s plenty to learn about this sheep byproduct.
There will be four days of the popular sheepdog trials where handlers showcase sheepdogs’ amazing skills at herding sheep. On Sunday, the weekend culminates in its namesake event: the Big Sheep Parade. As part of their migration to winter pastures, 1,500 sheep parade down Ketchum’s Main Street.
Coinciding with the festival’s 25th anniversary is the unveiling of The Good Shepherd Monument, located in Hailey’s Roberta McKercher Park. The sculpture by artist Danny D. Edwards of Danny Edwards Bronzes, consists of 11 life-sized bronze sculptures of eight sheep, a sheepherder, a horse and a dog. Together, the scene honors the sheep industry and its legacy in the area.
“We have dreamed of bringing something like this to the community for many years,” said John Peavey, festival co-founder and board president. “It is a unique gift from the Trailing of the Sheep festival to the industry and to the Wood River community and community beyond,” said Drake. “We think it’s a wonderful celebration and tribute to the history and culture of our region that we celebrate through our festival each year.”
The sculpture was made possible through a large estate donation as well as active fundraising, including the sale of engraved pavers adjacent to the piece.
Another highlight of this year’s festival will be celebrated author and essayist Gretel Erhlich, who will give the keynote at the annual Sheep Tales Gathering event. On Friday, Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. at The Argyros Theater in Ketchum, Erhlich will share stories of her travels and concerns related to those peoples around the world losing their traditional connections to the land due to climate change, much of which can be found in her new book “Unsolaced: Along the Way to All That Is.” After a reading from her book, Erhlich will have a conversation about her experiences with Jenny Emery Davidson, executive director of the Community Library in Ketchum.
Friday night’s program showcases the core of the festival — passing along history. “Stories and oral histories are at the heart of the Trailing of the Sheep Festival,” said Festival co-founder and artistic director Diane Peavey. “The weekend is a yearly celebration of folk and traditional art, history, heritage and the cultures of Idaho and the West. People have always shared their stories with family, friends and their tribe.”
On Saturday, Oct. 9 at 8 p.m. at The Argyros, a special performance of Peruvian Ballet Folklorica will be put on by the Utah Hispanic Dance Alliance and Chaskis Peruvian Musicians. These 30 folk dancers from Utah will focus on Andean music and dance.
Visit trailingofthesheep.org for event tickets and more information.
Note: The Trailing of the Sheep Festival is optimistically planning for a safe and enjoyable 2021 Festival and is following current CDC guidelines in regards to wearing masks, hand sanitizing, and social distancing while encouraging COVID vaccinations. Those wishing to attend Erhlich’s talk at the Argyros will have to follow the theater’s strict protocol of vaccine verification which requires all guests over the age of 12 to show proof of COVID vaccination.