Spotlight on rescued llama at 32nd Folk Art Festival

       Featuring “Homer,” the baby llama who made national headlines last year after his rescue on Pikes Peak, the 32nd annual Holly Berry House Folk Art Festival will return to the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site Sept. 17-19.

Homer the lost llama, as seen on Pikes Peak before his rescue last Oct. 2.
Courtesy of Christiann Schade and Rachel Javorsek

       With about 175 artisans/crafters from around the country, the tent-shopping event is a major ranch fundraiser, having contributed more than $1 million from event proceeds during the years it's been held, according to founder/ organizer Kathy Read.
       In previous years, the owner of Old Colorado City's Holly Berry House retail shop has directed that festival proceeds be used for specific restoration projects at the ranch (such as the Orchard House). This year she has asked only that the proceeds go to the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site Foundation as part of ongoing volunteer efforts to keep the ranch from closing in the wake of city budget cutbacks that have eliminated the ranch's subsidies. "Be-cause of the financial situation, it's important to get the money into the foundation," Read said this week. "This gives them a little more flexibility."
       Festival times are Friday, Sept. 17, from noon to 6 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 18, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 19, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission costs are $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $2 for children ages 6 to 12. Tickets are good for all three days.
       For pre-sale tickets, go to the Holly Berry House, 2411 W. Colorado Ave., or call 633-2026.
       Unlike other Rock Ledge events, the ticket booth will not be at the parking lot hut but at the entrance to a temporarily fenced-off area on the field near the Rock Ledge House.
       Inside, under large or small tents, a variety of goods will be offered, including jewelry, pottery, art works, cooking items, home décor, collectables, soaps, lotions and gourmet foods.
       Also available will be live music (headlined all three days by Jody Adams), a quilt auction in the ranch's Carriage House and historic house tours.
       The plan is for Homer to be in view in a pen at the booth for the Southeast Llama Association all three days. This is another fundraising opportunity Kathy Read supports, the association having participated in the rescue of Homer last year. "For a small donation to the Southeast Llama Association, you may have your picture taken with him," Read said.
       How much time Homer is on display depends on how the animal is feeling. "We don't want to wear him out," she said. On the other hand, she noted, Homer did well at the recent, heavily attended Denver Stock Show, where he was also a star attraction.
       His story became known last August when riders on the Pikes Peak Cog Railway started noticing a young llama following the trains, "sometimes for over a mile," according to a written account by Read.
       Railway conductor Rachel Javorsek wanted to rescue him, knowing he might die when winter came, but didn't know how it could be done.
       Only later did people figure out that the stray had belonged to a ranch on the south slope of Pikes Peak, and after his mother was killed by a mountain lion, he had fled above timberline. The ranch owners, who also have a home in Seattle, Wash., thought he had died too, according to Reed.

A view of the 2006 Holly Berry Folk Art Festival at Rock Ledge Ranch, as seen from a nearby ridge.
Westside Pioneer photo

       It was actually at last year's Holly Berry Festival that Homer's rescue began taking shape. Attending the event, Javorsek found the space leased by C Squared Alpaca from Black Forest, selling alpaca garments and knitting yarns and displaying a pen of young alpacas. Christiann Schade, the C Squared owner, had previously raised llamas (which are similar to alpacas). She shared Javorsek's concern about the llama on the Peak. In an interview this week, she said she talked to the Southeast Llama Association, which offered volunteer help, and to Tracy Ducharme, a llama ranch owner in Black Forest.
       Concern for the baby mounted after a big storm blew in late last September, closing the Pikes Peak Highway. When it reopened a few days later, a rescue effort was made, but came up empty (although there was evidence the llama had survived). On Oct. 2, a group set out again, braving new-fallen snow and a temperature of 2 below zero. The group that day consisted of Ducharme, her friend Kathy Wallace and Michael Shealy from Touch the Earth Llamas, also in Black Forest. Ducharme and Shealy each brought one of their llamas, based on the fact that llamas are basically herd animals and the youngster might be attracted to his own kind. According to Schade, Homer had already tried to make friends with the bighorn sheep on the Peak, "but they'd have nothing to do with him."
       For a while that day, the group thought they'd come up empty. Then a shape was spotted about a mile away. According to Read's account, "Ecstatic, the rescue team forged their way closer through boulder fields, deep snow drifts and gullies. Then within about a quarter of a mile, the young llama saw them, leapt up and, just as expected, ran directly to the security of the pack llamas. Mission accomplished! Tracy immediately named him Homer for the adventurous odyssey he had been on. Now safe and healthy, Homer happily resides on Tracy's farm in Black Forest, scampering about with the other llamas."
       Schade described it as an "incredible story when you think about it, for him to survive." She also tied it in with Rock Ledge itself. If the ranch had not been open for the festival last September, "I wouldn't have been there, Rachel wouldn't have been there, and that llama would not have been rescued."

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