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Sweetwater prepares for snake invasion as the 'Rattlesnake Round-up' approaches

Published On: Feb 22 2013 08:07:19 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 22 2013 08:19:49 PM CST

Sweetwater is gearing up for the biggest event to hit their town each year.

The 55th annual 'Rattlesnake Round-up' will be held in two weeks, when people from all over will visit the town to see the world's largest round-up.

The Sweetwater Jaycees started the Rattlesnake Round-up in 1958 as a way to control the snake population that was plaguing farmers and ranchers- and more importantly, their livestock.

"From there, it's just exploded. Thousands come to Sweetwater every year," said Riley Sawyers, a spokesman for the Sweetwater Jaycees.

Since it began, the Jaycees have wrangled more than 100 tons of rattlesnakes. The snakes' skins are used, and the meat is eaten, but the venom goes to a more charitable cause.

"The venom is used for medical research for cancer. It can also stop a heart attack or stroke," said Sawyers.

Sawyers said they collect an average of about 5,000 pounds of snakes each year, every one of which is milked for venom.

Sawyers said preparing for the main event, the Round-up, is non-stop.

"We work on Round-up 365 days a year," he said.

It brings about 50,000 people to to the town of 11,000. Sawyers said businesses in the town claim the event pays their expenses for about 25 percent of the year.

There are activities for everyone. There is a cook-off and a Miss Snake Charmer Queen Contest, where winners are awarded college scholarships.

"It's a big event for this town and it's something that's been around for a long time...it's huge," said Miss Snake Charmer Pageant hopeful Alyssa Leverton.

"I don't know what Sweetwater would do during spring break if we didn't have the Rattlesnake Round-up," said Kayla Chowning, Miss Snake Charmer 2012.

The "World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-up" is always held the second weekend of March. This year it will be March 8-10.

The gates open at 8 a.m. each day and closing times vary. The entrance fee is $8 for adults and $4 for children. Proceeds benefit various charities, including Boy Scouts/Girl Scouts, Special Olympics and the Red Cross.

For more information on the schedule of events, call the Sweetwater Chamber of Commerce at (325) 235-5488.