Shear delights

April 30, 1993

Since its inception two decades ago, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival has evolved into a major state event, and not just for -- dare we say it? -- dyed-in-the-wool devotees of knitting and sheepherding.

This year's festival, the 20th of these events, will be held tomorrow and Sunday at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship. It's free and open to the public and, befitting a function in a suburban county, parking also will be gratis -- and plentiful.

You can tell this is a big regional bash by the big numbers its sponsors are predicting. Some 45,000 people from the Mid-Atlantic area are expected to attend over the two days. About 1,000 sheep will be featured in a competition described as one of the largest in the United States for natural-colored sheep, and 30 different varieties will be displayed in a "parade of breeds."

In addition, nearly 300 vendors will be selling craft items, wool products and shepherd's supplies. Knitters and spinners who regularly attend the festival know it as a great marketplace for high-quality, low-priced wools.

Even if you have never spun, knitted or pearled in your life, nor have any intention ever to do so, you can enjoy numerous other activities planned for this weekend.

They include a demonstration of border collies rounding up sheep; live performances of folk music; a shearing competition (a real pro can pull the wool off a sheep in less than two minutes), and lamb tastings (among the recipes cooked up at previous fests were lamb fajitas and Hawaiian lamb pizza).

For all the merriment the non-profit festival generates, it also provides a reminder that many Marylanders make their living by keeping sheep. Statewide, there are 1,100 farms with 33,000 sheep valued at $3.6 million.

"While these sheep are raised primarily for their meat, they are also used for a growing wool trade serving the many spinners and weavers in this state and region," reads Gov. William Donald Schaefer's proclamation of May 1 and 2 as Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival Days.

The fairgrounds are open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. tomorrow, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Bring the kids, but leave the dogs at home. They tend to make the sheep skittish. Anyway, this is supposed to be the sheep's day -- rather, two days -- in the sun.

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