SWEETWATER, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – There’s nothing quite like the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup. Definitely a unique event, the roundup draws nearly 21,000 out-of-state visitors every year, creating consistent revenue for the city, but also creating new family traditions.

That was the case for Roscoe High’s Ashleigh McKinney, who began working the roundup in 2015 as a photographer. However, her photography didn’t last very long.

McKinney went from photographer to snake skinner, which has instilled a passion to teach the community about the venomous snake.

“I just absolutely fell in love with it,” McKinney said. “Especially the little kids, because they become so fascinated with the snakes, getting to touch them and getting to see them.”

But that passion had to start somewhere, and couldn’t have started without the generation before her. Her mother was a photographer, as well. She was invited by the Jaycees to come take pictures of the roundup, and a young Ashleigh would tag along and soak up everything the roundup had to offer.

Now, it has become a McKinney family tradition.

For those coming out of state, that sentiment reigns true, as well. According to a 2015 study, nearly every group that purchased tickets had at least 4.36 members in their party.

Executive Director of Sweetwater’s Chamber of Commerce Karen Hunt said all families in attendance take a lot of pride in coming to the Rattlesnake Roundup. She said in 2022, most Sweetwater hotels are fully booked through the weekend and are completely out of rooms Friday and Saturday night.

She said it goes to show that the Rattlesnake Roundup not only provides a unique memory for families, but is also a major driving force in Sweetwater’s economy.

Hunt said in 2015, visitors stayed an average of roughly 2.5 days in Sweetwater, eating at their restaurants, staying at their hotels and enjoying other attractions, as well. She said all of that income added up to $8.4 million in revenue for the city.

She also said those numbers only increased until 2020 when the pandemic put a dent in their attendance. However, with a nice weekend ahead in 2022, she expects numbers to get back to where they were prior to the pandemic.

And while thousands come from out of state to attend the Rattlesnake Roundup, Sweetwater’s own Macy Newberry and her family have enjoyed their hometown tradition.

“I go down every year and I watch the shows and I pet the snakes, and of course I get some lemonade, and so I’m very excited out there,” Newberry said.

Both Newberry and Mckinney are contestants in the Miss Snake Charmer’s Pageant this year. It’s a dream, Newberry said, that has been on her mind since she was a little girl. She also said it helps to have her grandmother and mother encouraging her along the way.

Leading up to the roundup, you could see the excitement building on Newberry’s face as she handled a Western Diamondback rattlesnake and took home a skin of her own. She said it’s a dream come true and a tradition she wants to pass down to her own family one day.

The Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup is being held at the Nolan County Coliseum from March 11-13.