Bighorns are guests of honor at new event in Basalt
March 8, 2014
if you go
What: Bighorn Sheep Festival
When: Saturday, 10 a.m.
Where: Vans depart from Aspenalt Lodge
Basalt has hosted festivals celebrating its rivers and its railroad heritage, but nothing proved to have staying power.
Longtime Roaring Fork Valley photographer Ken Toy thinks he has the next big idea for the small town. He wants to build a festival where some of the most popular, if somewhat shy, residents are the main attraction. On Saturday, Toy is launching the Bighorn Sheep Festival, which he plans to hold on an annual basis.
"I got the idea after I spent a year working on a magazine story on bighorn sheep of the Fryingpan," Toy said.
He became so fascinated with the magnificent creatures that he decided to shelve the story and take a stab at hosting an event that could draw attention to the sheep while also boosting Basalt's economy. Since organizing special events isn't his forte, he researched numerous festivals in towns and cities across Colorado last year.
"Some are tiny; some are huge," Toy said.
But the common denominator that he noticed was that the successful festivals often feature an educational aspect primarily aimed at kids.
The bighorns are already a popular draw for people who know where to look. Toy said he saw 200 bighorns in the Fryingpan Valley at about this time last year, when the snow melted away in the valley floor and the animals came down for browsing. One of the more thrilling sights is seeing lambs sunbathing, he said.
Toy got to know the habits of the herd while spending so much time up the Fryingpan, where he lives. And people recognize him as the guy always photographing the animals.
"I ran into people in the market and at the hotels who would ask, 'Are you the sheep guy?'" Toy said.
His experience also taught him that the problem with sightseers is they can cause a traffic hazard on Frying Pan Road. So for the festival, Toy has lined up two vans through Snow Limo to transport people up the valley. They will pull over at places where bighorns are most likely to be spotted. The vans will depart from the Aspenalt Lodge at 10 a.m. Saturday. Rides are free and first come, first served.
The town of Basalt provided a $1,500 grant as seed money for the event.
Toy said he's hoping to attract people who haven't seen the bighorn sheep up close. He particularly wants kids and photographers to show up. He extended an invitation to some attendees of a Sunshine Kids gathering upvalley.
The bighorn sheep won't be disturbed during the event. They will be viewed from afar, though Toy noted he's had curious animals walk right up to his car.
There is an element of risk that the guests of honor won't show up at their own festival. Although the bighorn sheep have roamed the valley floor in recent days, their travel plans are unpredictable, Toy said. Weather often plays a role.
"Hopefully the animals will be there," Toy said.
Toy can be reached at 970-319-9199 for more information.