The city of Ketchum is moving forward with a scaled-back Wagon Days event—but not as small as the City Council considered earlier this year.
On Monday, the council gave staff direction to proceed with a Wagon Days parade that will feature the city’s Big Hitch ore wagons and a limited number of outside entries, as well as food and beverage vendors on East Avenue during the parade and some children’s activities. The city is also planning a historical display at its Ore Wagon Museum while the site serves as the event headquarters, plus an outdoor celebration for the grand marshal. Activities conducted in the past at the Festival Meadow next to town will not be scheduled.
“To have this tradition come back to Ketchum is wonderful,” Councilwoman Amanda Breen said.
Though the city’s ore wagons were displayed in 2020, Wagon Days—the popular Labor Day-weekend celebrations of Ketchum’s mining-era history—was canceled then because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, city staff tentatively proposed that the city bring back Wagon Days but in a vastly condensed iteration that would keep crowds small. In years past, the Big Hitch Parade—the main event of the weekend—has attracted as many as 20,000 people, according to estimates.
Then, the city’s plan called for having a traditional 20-count team of mules pull the city’s authentic ore wagons down the length of Sun Valley Road, on only a short leg of the route of the typical Wagon Days parade. No parade entries would be allowed and other events would not be scheduled.
With the pandemic slowed, locally high COVID-19 vaccination rates and evidence that outdoor activities pose significantly less transmission risk than those indoors, the city has expanded its plans. The city repealed a COVID-19 emergency health order and mask mandate in May.
Lisa Enourato, public affairs and administrative services manager, said the event organizer believes that as many as 50 owners of nonmotorized entries could participate in the parade. Typically, the number is about 70, Enourato said.
“We’ve had a lot of calls,” she said.
Using the current budget of $80,000, Enourato said, the city could afford to hire California muleskinner Bobby Tanner to bring a full team of mules to Ketchum to guide the Big Hitch, an authentic, preserved string of wooden ore-carrying wagons from the late 1800s.
If the city did not hire Tanner to drive the Big Hitch this year, his services—used for many years—could be lost, she said. He is considered the only option to do the job.
In the past, the city has spent as much as $130,000 on Wagon Days, Enourato said.
Enourato said an annual Pancake Breakfast in Town Square—conducted over the weekend by the nonprofit Papoose Club—could also return.
“They really want to do it,” she said.
All four city councilmembers supported the plan.
Mayor Neil Bradshaw said the new blueprint will focus more on history than modern entertainment.
“It’s really going to its historical core,” he said.