Llamas off to the races in St. Croix County villageIt's hard to imagine a champion racer described as "short, heavyset" and "who carries a few extra pounds." But it's true.
By: By Chuck Rupnow, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis., Superior Telegram
HAMMOND -- It's hard to imagine a champion racer described as "short, heavyset" and "who carries a few extra pounds." But it's true.
That's the description of Cutie Pie, who won last year's title in the Running of the Llamas at Hammond. He will try to defeat 11 others Saturday in this year's race.
The 16th annual event includes vendors, a parade, live music and a Rib Fest.
"It's a great event for the village of Hammond," said Don Fowell, owner of the Hammond Hotel and one of six on the organizing committee. "The vision was to kind of have another festival for the community."
Fowell, who has run the hotel for about four years, calls the event "quirky," adding that 3,000 to 4,000 people will turn out for the festivities.
"This is a good way to kind of close out the summer and bring some people and commerce into the community, so they can see what Hammond has to offer," Fowell said.
About four blocks of the village's Main Street are shut down in late morning for 17 vendors and llama demonstrations, with food specials at several restaurants. There is a unique parade, including costumed llamas, at 2:30 p.m., followed by the one-block llama races at 3 p.m.
Rib Fest, which includes seven vendors, according to committee member Sandy Brecht, runs from 3:30 to 6 p.m. The community band plays at 1 p.m. at Hammond Hotel, with Boondoggle playing from 4 to 7 p.m.
The late Fred Kremer, who owned the hotel, and his son Paul originated the llama race event in 1997, largely as a way of bringing business into the community. The event has grown since Fowell bought the business.
Historical accounts indicate the event started as a one-time customer appreciation event, in which three llamas and their handlers ran across the street, around the hotel a couple of times and through the hotel once.
The event soon escalated to include more llamas, up to about 14, in an actual race. But confusion and entanglement of lead lines led to freed llamas. It has since evolved into heats, in which winners earn a basket of salad and vegetables. Tip sheets are given to spectators, even though no public wagering is allowed.
"We've put a ton of work into this," said Brecht, who runs a photography business in the village and has been part of the organizing group for many years. "It's a very fun event that draws a lot of people here. You don't believe it until you see it."
Other committee members are Sheila Fugina, Michelle Johnson, Paulette Anderson and Heidi Freier.
"It's a day where you come and have fun. It's that simple," Anderson said. "Businesses make a little money. It's whimsical. The parade is short and full of things that are not normal, just like the llama run."
Anderson recently sent T-shirts to people in California and Pennsylvania.
"People just like the idea and like llamas," she said. "It certainly is something to talk about."
And, in case you're interested, the list of competitors this year includes Merlin's Promise, Dia de Pago, El Norwuego Rojo, Pez, Raina, Jim-Dandy, Cutie Pie, Futurity, Timmy, Bailey, Kyhia and Conche y Toro.
Rupnow can be reached at 715-830-5831, 800-236-7077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c)2012 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)
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