At one time, Northwest Colorado was the wool capital of the world.
Mining, gas development, tourism and power generation have since emerged as the pistons that drive the region's economic engine, but the sturdy sheep wagon remains an icon of Northwest Colorado's history.
Colorado Northwest Community College and the Museum of Northwest Colorado are doing their part to remind residents and visitors that sheep and agriculture played an important role in who we are today.
Now in its sixth year, the Sheep Wagon Days festival is a low-key affair that strives to educate patrons about a bygone era.
"We have a commitment to our community to educate people, and an important part of education is to learn about your own community and its origins. We've embraced this as a cultural and historic project," said Mary Shearer, the public relations director for the college.
Jan Gerber, the assistant director at the museum, likes that Sheep Wagon Days isn't a commercial affair. There are few vendors. Rather than enticing people to buy things, Sheep Wagon Days strives to provide a rustic and casual setting where people can soak up the past and interact with their neighbors.
"It's not dollar driven. ... It's just a fun event, and it's fun to see small children exploring and learning. It's not a fast-paced event. People just stroll through the park, look and stop and visit with each other."
Sheep Wagon Days begins Thursday and ends Saturday with a Western Barbecue Dinner fund-raiser for the college's nursing program. During the three days of the festival, patrons can see pioneer crafts such as hand quilting and wool spinning, farm animals and, of course, the sheep wagons.
"When we think about the independence and the survival aspects of the early days, some of the personality of our community remains from those days -- we have a Western persona," Shearer said. "I think it's exemplified by the sheep wagon itself. You have to be resourceful to survive in the elements presented in Moffat County.
A sheep wagon is a home on wheels for the sheep herders who drive them across Northwest Colorado tending to bands of sheep. They have evolved during the decades from having wooden wheels to being mounted on top of automotive chassis. The sheep herders live out of the wagons from lambing season until winter.
Many local ranchers lend their wagons to the festival. Because of budget constraints, Shearer and Gerber depend heavily on support from ranchers and volunteers to keep the festival going.
It's refreshing to see events aimed at preserving the region's heritage. We hope many people will take the opportunity to enjoy this unique educational experience.