Festival for Garden’s bighorn herd Feb. 18

       Sixty years ago, a Division of Wildlife (DOW) truck was carrying 14 bighorn sheep down Highway 24 from the Tarryall Mountains.
       The destination was the Pikes Peak Highway; the animals were to join the existing herd in that area.
       Near Green Mountain Falls, the truck broke down. DOW officers, worried about leaving the sheep cooped up overnight, let them out then and there, figuring they would head south and make their own way to Pikes Peak.
       Instead, the bighorns went north, establishing their own herd in the open spaces around the Rampart Range and Garden of the Gods.
       A celebration of that migration - and the Rampart Herd that still thrives there - is scheduled Saturday, Feb. 18, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., in the inaugural Bighorn Sheep Festival at the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center.
       The event is free. Refreshments will be served.
       Activities will be both indoor and outdoor. People can use binoculars and telescopes (provided) to look for bighorns, take guided nature walks that will discuss the species, attend talks by DOW officers, and view a display of pelts and horns. For children, there will be an hour-long interactive program in the Visitor Center theater.
       The hope, according to Visitor Center lead interpreter Melissa Walker and Michael Seraphin of DOW, is that the festival can become annual. Similar such events, focused on specific wildlife in a given area, have proven successful elsewhere. For instance, the annual sandhill crane festival in the San Luis Valley is more than 20 years old and has become a tourist attraction for that area, Seraphin noted. Other such Colorado events include festivals for eagles in Pueblo, snowgeese in Lamar and (locally) hummingbirds at the Cheyenne area's Starsmore Center, he said.
       The only potential downside to such events - and the one at the Garden of the Gods - is that there's no guarantee any wildlife will be seen.
       But the odds aren't that long. Walker estimates that bighorn sightings occur as often as three times a week. “They have added a fantastic visual experience to the park,” she said. The most typical place to see them is on the rocks at the north end of the park. The animals also graze above the Garden of the Gods around the restored concrete quarry (once known as the “scar on the mountain”). “It's a great habitat for them because they like to see a long way,” she said. “They eat the new grassshoots on the south-facing slope.”
       As for the health of the Rampart Herd after all these years, that's not a problem. Seraphin said the size now is about 75 sheep, and that's after relocating 150 of them because of concerns the herd was getting too big.
       Here's a schedule of the festival activities:
  • 10 a.m.-2 p.m. - look for bighorns with binoculars and scopes (with help from DOW officers) from the Mesa Overlook.
  • 10 a.m.-3 p.m. - bighorn “touch table” in the center.
  • 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. - guided nature walks.
  • 11 a.m. presentation (“Bighorn Biology and the Rampart Herd”) by a DOW officer.
  • Noon-1 p.m. - children's interactive program about park wildife.
  • 1 p.m., presentation (“Dome Rock and the Pikes Peak Herd”) by a DOW officer.

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