People, bighorns show up for inaugural Garden festival

       Although a crowd count was hard to calculate, the inaugural Bighorn Sheep Festival at the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center Feb. 18 appears to have been popular and well attended despite 6-degree temperatures. With supervision from Division of Wildlife volunteers Jodi
Hendrickson (foreground, far right) and Debbie Ackley
(facing her), people use telescopes to view several of the
animals that were grazing that morning above Glen Eyrie 
during the Bighorn Sheep Festival Feb. 18. The telescopes
are looking northwest from the overlook on Mesa Road. The
bighorns are part of the Rampart Herd that lives near the Garden of the Gods.
Westside Pioneer photo        Visitor numbers at the center were 50 higher than at the same time last year, according to Melissa Walker, the center's lead interpreter. People participating in the free event got to view slide presentations by the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW), the event's co-sponsor; view pelts and horns; talk to representatives of DOW, the U.S. Forest Service or the Nature Center; and take guided nature hikes.
       Best of all, about 14 bighorns cooperated by making appearances above Glen Eyrie, easily within the range of the telescopes that the DOW had set up for that purpose at the Mesa Road overlook.
       Visits to the telescopes were aided by free center shuttle buses.
       “We think the festival did bring out more people,” Walker said. The 30-some evaluation forms that some attendees turned in indicated that there were “local people who might not have come otherwise, and the tourists from out of town were pleasantly surprised.”
       The expectation now is to make the festival an annual event, probably in February again. “There are not a huge amount of events in February,” Walker said. “It might be a good time to highlight the bighorns.”
       One of the attendees, Colorado Springs resident Frank Dennis, wrote in his evaluation, “I enjoyed the slide show and learned a great deal. The viewing was very fun (wish I'd brought along my own binoculars).”
       Donna and Clark Olivson, visiting from California, happily wrote that they “happened upon this fantastic program. We were surprised there was no fee involved.”
       The festival was organized to honor the 60th anniversary of the Rampart Herd of bighorn sheep, which established themselves after being let out of a DOW truck that broke down near Green Mountain Falls in 1946. The roughly 75-strong herd has made its home ever since in the open lands chiefly north of the Garden of the Gods.
       The herd is healthy, except for a lungworm problem (common in bighorns) that DOW treats them for once a year, DOW District Wildlife Manager Trina Romero explained.

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