BAYFIELD – Bayfield Heritage Days creators recalled the event’s first days as they prepared this week for the 20th anniversary of the town’s sheep-filled, heritage celebration.
The two-day event, which began in 2000, centers around a flock of sheep’s journey from grazing in the highlands above Lemon Reservoir back to lower elevations. Its first organizers created the celebration to bring more business to Bayfield and to offer the community a fun fall event. Twenty years later, some of those same people continue to organize the festivities.
“We’re just trying to get a good turnout ... and good weather,” said Carole McWilliams, a member of this year’s heritage planning committee and one of the celebration’s first organizers.
In some towns, sheep are trucked into position for a sheep trailing – not so in Bayfield. They have been walking up to the highlands in June or July and coming back down in September or October for at least 100 years, the organizers said.
“It’s the real deal,” said Geri Lasater, one of the first organizers, adding that it can be tense because the animals are interacting with drivers who are, at times, impatient.
The Heritage Days festivities, organized by the Bayfield Lion’s Club, Rotary and Heritage Society, add some excitement to the trailing. Friday events feature the Heritage Days kick-off dinner and Bar D Wranglers show at 5:30 p.m. in the South Street gym. Bar D Wranglers perform old West songs, featuring fiddle, bass and acoustic guitars.
On Saturday, attendees can participate in the family fun run and 5K race at 8 a.m. before seeing the sheep parade at 9 a.m. and the people parade after that. Vendors, hay rides and entertainment will take place in Joe Stephenson Park.
The town of Bayfield, Pine River Library, TBK Bank, Ballantine Family Fund and Southwest Ag Inc. also support the event.
In its first days, “old-timers” shared stories on Friday night, and Saturday events featured square dancers, Southern Ute dancers and drum group, the Bayfield community band and more.
“We wanted to get a fall event – just to get more of a community feeling and to get people to come to town and spend money,” McWilliams said.
She was working for the newspaper and president of the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce at the time. The chamber and town were searching for ideas for a fall celebration.
Then, Geri Lasater and a friend came to the newspaper and said, “‘Hey, we have these sheep that come through town in the fall, why don’t we do something with that?’ And that’s kind of how it started,” McWilliams said.
The festivities continued even when the 2002 Missionary Ridge Fire almost threatened the highlands grazing area. One year, they didn’t have any sheep. In 2017, the fire department closed them down because of lightning in the area.
McWilliams said her favorite memory was the time the sheep caught up to Saturday’s parade.
“They ran right through the people. There were no disasters, but ... ,” McWilliams said laughing.
“Sheep were all over town,” said Tony Schrier, another organizer.
“So now the parade is after the sheep go through,” McWilliams said.