Celebrity llama helps festival gate

       Aided by the attraction of Homer, the nationally known llama, proceeds from the 32nd annual Holly Berry Folk Art Festival Sept. 17-19 appear to be “just down a smidgen” from the previous year, according to event operator Kathy Read.

A line of tents shows some of the variety of wares at the Folk Art Festival.
Westside Pioneer photo

       She revealed this news joyfully. “I am relieved,” she said. With the economy bad and rumors rampant that the fund-strapped city had closed Rock Ledge Ranch, “I had a gut feeling no one would come. I'd be standing out here all by myself.”
       Instead, as in past years, thousands of shoppers again filled the Rock Ledge parking lot and on-street parking in upper Pleasant Valley and tramped in to the temporary, fenced-in “tent city” on the ranch hayfield near the blacksmith shop where about 175 arts and crafts booths awaited them.
       The after-costs total that can be donated to the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site is still being tabulated - “we'll get bills for the next six to eight weeks,” Read said - but she estimated, based on past experience, that the final number will be somewhere in the mid- to upper $20,000 range.
       This is good news for the ranch, which the city actually was ready to close this year had not its volunteer friends group, the Living History Association (LHA), stepped up last December and begun a year-round fundraising effort that carried the public facility through its 2010 summer operations and lent hope that Rock Ledge can continue next year.
       Since Reed, an Old Colorado City artist and shop owner, started the festival 32 years ago, she estimates the amount it has generated for the ranch has exceeded $1 million in all.
       An additional pleasure for Ron Wright, LHA president, was that during the festival the LHA was able to recruit 240 new or renewed dues-paying members. This not only helps the the ranch monetarily, it increases the numbers of potential volunteers, which are increasingly needed in the current ranch scenario, he noted.

Homer, whose rescue last year on Pikes Peak made him a celebrity, looks out from his pen at the festival. The llama was a key attraction for this year's 32nd annual event.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Also doing well at the festival was the pen where famous llama Homer was on display. According to Tracy Ducharme, a Black Forest llama rancher who now owns him, passersby (some who took pictures with him) donated a total of $180, which will be given to the relatively new Llama Welfare Foundation (started by a llama rancher in Laramie, Wyo.). Ducharme said the goal for the foundation is to establish a self-supporting endowment, which could be used to care for abandoned llamas or to assist in the kind of rescue that saved Homer off Pikes Peak a year ago after he lost his mother to a mountain lion.
       Ducharme helped in that rescue, which attracted coverage from national media and actually had its start at last year's festival when a Cog Railway conductor told a friend of Ducharme's, an alpaca rancher, about a lost young llama that had been following the cog trains.
       Ducharme said the $180 in donations was a pleasant surprise, in that only $30 had been donated at the larger, multi-day Denver Stock Show where Homer had been spotlighted just a few weeks earlier. “I don't know what the difference was,” Ducharme said, recalling one person at the festival who put in $100. “She said she was an animal lover and was really moved by his story.”
       There's no telling how much the llama impacted the gate, but Read thought many came just to see Homer, and Ducharme said that several people had told her that.
       In a big plus, Homer is mild-mannered by llama standards. “It's hard to say how he would have been [without his rescue experience], but he has an amazingly mellow personality,” Ducharme said. “I've been training him to be a PR [public relations] animal. He accepts people as part of his herd now. Kids hug on him, and he's fine.”

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