Routt families to gather

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JoAnne Semotan is a dam holding back a century of information. Get her talking, and the conversation winds from the early days of horse breeding in Routt County to the way ranchers were affected by the Great Depression.

She is a storyteller in the classic sense, passing on the oral history of her family. She's just like her mother, who made sure her daughter knew all the legends, rumors and memories associated with the land where they rode their horses and ran their cattle.

"I fear that our young people, the third, fourth and fifth generation don't know the stories that the second generation know," she said. "We need to talk and tell those stories instead of just drifting into the future."

That's why this weekend's Pioneer Picnic is so important. On Sunday, Semotan and fellow organizers Viola Look and Lucky Mosher are inviting longtime Routt County families to sit in a circle and tell their stories.

The Pioneer Picnic has been an annual tradition since 1948, and before that, there was the Heritage Picnic that started in 1902. To be invited to the Heritage Picnic, you had to have lived in the Yampa Valley for at least 15 years. These days, the Pioneer Picnic is a gathering of people who have lived in the area since the turn of the century. It's a chance for families such as the Camilettis, the Hitchens, the Stankos, the Mays and the Lights to keep in touch.

According to tradition, everyone brings a side dish.

"It's the best food; salads you haven't seen since you were a child and cakes that come from famous family recipes," Semotan said.

The picnic moves every two years to different parts of Routt County. In 2003 and 2004, it was held in Oak Creek. This year and next year, it will be in Steamboat Springs.

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