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Garden of Gods' Bighorn Sheep Day a chance to spot iconic animal in iconic place

February 5, 2018 Updated: February 6, 2018 at 11:42 am
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A bighorn sheep hangs out in the rocks Wednesday, March 27, 2013, in the northend of Gardens of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

For a 13th year, Colorado Springs residents will flock to the city's most famous park, many hoping to get their first glimpse of the West's iconic mammal in the wild.

Bret Tennis, the Garden of the Gods' operations administrator who helps organize Bighorn Sheep Day, is always surprised by the number of locals expressing that desire. After all, it's often people get spoiled with a sighting around here, thanks to the Rampart Range herd that Colorado Parks and Wildlife considers "healthy and prolific."

But if the event is like last year's, which drew 3,000-plus people, Tennis will guide visitors to lookouts for their first viewings. "That's a big treat for us," he says.

The biggest treat would be to see the sheep scurrying up the Garden's rocks, or to hear the clash of curled horns as two rams tussle. "Those are experiences that stay in your mind forever," Tennis says.

Of course, he can't guarantee anything Saturday during the celebration full of family fun. The sheep are an unpredictable bunch - as unpredictable as their arrival to the Garden was.

In 1946, wildlife officers were moving 14 sheep from Pikes Peak when the truck broke down. The animals were let loose near Green Mountain Falls, the thought being that they would journey back home.

"Wildlife, being how they are, they went the opposite direction," Tennis says. "They went to Queens Canyon."

And that has remained the central gathering place for the Rampart Range herd, which frequently visits Glen Eyrie below and the Garden farther south - open areas ideal for the sheep to spot predators.

Parks and Wildlife in the mid-'80s started relocating some of the flourishing herd to struggling populations around the state. For the first time since before 2012's Waldo Canyon fire, officers last week were back in Queens Canyon to pick 20 from the group that had 115 at last count.

"People will still be able to see bighorn sheep," says Bill Vogrin, regional spokesman for Parks and Wildlife, a partner of Bighorn Sheep Day. "It's not going to have an impact on the event."

The sheep might have been "stirred up," Tennis says, "which might actually increase the chance of seeing them."

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