ENTERPRISE, OR – Hells Canyon Mule Days has been a Wallowa County tradition since 1981 as the result of a meeting between local ranchers, packers and guides, and representatives of the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce and USDA Forest Service to explore the idea of putting together a new county event.
Wallowa County was rich in the history of the inhospitable terrain of Hells Canyon, and that area owes most of its early settlement and development to the mule, who predominantly served as a major means of transportation during these early times. As a result of this meeting, the mule, tough, intelligent, sure-footed, and often misunderstood, but a mainstay of the many packers and outfitters working in Wallowa County, was elevated to center stage for the first Hells Canyon Mule Day celebration.
The mule show is three full days of events that include classes for every age group and skill level. The weekend is packed full of mule-related happenings and there is always something to see and do for the whole family. The fun family three-day weekend draws contestants, vendors and exhibitors, and visitors alike from five states and Canada.
This year, 2020, is the 40th annual event and plans were in place to make it an outstanding one according to Sondra Lozier, President.
Back in March when COVID-19 was declared a statewide concern, we never thought that the Hells Canyon Mule Days event would be in jeopardy. But, with so many unknowns and changes in state regulations and mandates, the board of directors made the decision that we will only be able to have the two-day Ty Evans clinic scheduled on September 9th and 10th, before the mule show dates, and the Dave Stamey concert (regulations permitting) on Saturday night September 12th at the historic OK Theatre in downtown Enterprise.
As for the Mule Days show and everything that goes with it – vendors and exhibitors, cowboy poetry gathering and cowboy church, Dutch oven cook-off, parade, Saturday night pit b-b-q dinner, and the PT mule sale – we feel we can’t safely conduct the Mule Days event without putting visitors, contestants, volunteers, and our community at risk.
The board felt that it is not possible to follow OHA guidance on proper social distancing, mandatory safety and cleaning protocols for the fairgrounds and restrooms, to limit the number of people at the event, and to follow Governor Kate Brown’s mandate for everyone to wear a mask.
It is out of concern for the health and wellbeing of our Wallowa County communities and for those who visit us that we make this decision. We place the health and safety of our contestants, exhibitors and vendors, spectators, volunteers, and everyone connected with the mule show above all else and that made this the only decision possible.
“This is incredibly disappointing,” Lozier said, “and I assure everyone that this decision was not made lightly. Our board was unanimous that this was the only option. As disappointing as this is, we look forward to welcoming everyone back to Enterprise in 2021 when we plan to celebrate the 40th Annual Hells Canyon Mule Days event.” The 2021 dates are set for September 10-11-12 at the Wallowa County Fairgrounds.
In light of canceling the Mule Days event, the board voted to award the three $1,000.00 Max Walker Memorial scholarships to three Wallowa County high school seniors for this year even though the scholarships are funded in part by donations from the Cowboy Poetry Gathering and from the gathering sponsors.
This has been a very difficult year for the graduating seniors and we felt it was not fair to deny them the help they applied for. This is the first time that the event has been canceled since it was established in 1981 and it is the oldest and largest mule show in Oregon.