Fiber festival pays off for Pagosa

This will be the ninth year of the Pagosa Fiber Festival and the festival board is quite proud of its accomplishments. What began as an event conceived of and sponsored by one family — the Belt family of Echo Mountain Alpaca — has now moved into the non-profit world with 501c 3) status and a board of directors.

This year, the festival will take place May 30-31 and, as last year, the venue is Town Park.

Both the fiber arts workshops (Thursday and Friday, May 28-29) and the Navajo Rug Auction (Saturday at 5 p.m.) will be at the community center.

Anyone involved in the non-profit world will understand how this festival depends on the effort and devotion of a few hard working people, the support and generosity of the community and an occasional grant. It is appropriate, then, that the community come to understand how the festival is good for Pagosa.

In the past the festival board has received Enterprise Zone Marketing Funds through Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado, and it is the district’s own report that helps demonstrate the value of the festival.

The Region 9 Report of 2006 tells us that “Economic diversification is a high priority for the Region.” The diversity is needed “to improve the number, quality and variety of jobs that are available to local residents.”

If that was true in 2006, it is even more relevant today, given the dramatic loss of jobs in the area. The Fiber Festival helps to alleviate the need by supporting the efforts of a growing cottage industry involved in fiber-related businesses. Whether raising animals for breeding, sale and fiber production (alpacas, llamas, goats, sheep and rabbits) or working their fibers (spinning, weaving, knitting and felting) to make products for sale, these people are helping to diversify economic activity in the area and the Fiber Festival offers a prime venue for product sales.

As we all know, employment economies in Archuleta are primarily tourism, construction (when we are not in a “bust” period) and retail trade. At the same time, according to that same Region 9 Report, “The preservation of a rural lifestyle and landscape has been identified as priorities in all discussions of economic development in the region.” Once again the Fiber Festival supports that priority by providing the small livestock farmers a venue to promote their product, thus, helping to make a rural lifestyle economically feasible.

The Pagosa Fiber Festival is exactly right for this community at this time in its history. Although the frenzy of development activity of the recent past has slowed to a stop, it will return again — our history of boom and bust tells us that. Large ranches will continue to be bought up with plans to turn open grazing land and forested mountains into home sites. Empty lots will once again become attractive to developers with plans for spec houses. Community planning committees have produced a Comprehensive Plan in an attempt to insure that Pagosa Springs does not lose its natural and rural aspect — that quality many of us came here for — that quality that continues to bring tourists to our area.

Currently, we are facing the challenge of a slow economy but history tells us that development mania will return. It always has. And when it does, the Pagosa Fiber Festival is one answer to preserving that quality of life we speak about so often . The community will benefit as the festival grows and the festival needs community support to grow. Our goal is to attract crowds the size of the Taos Wool Festival, estimated at 3,000-5,000 in 2008. The Taos event is now totally self-supporting with vendors bringing in $50,000-$60,000 in sales. The Pagosa Fiber Fest needs to grow significantly to reach that point. In 2008, attendance figures reached 1,200 and vendor sales reached, approximately $25,000 worth of hand-crafted products. A percentage of that goes directly to the town and county coffers as sales tax revenues. The dollar gain experienced by Archuleta County and the Town of Pagosa Springs is directly related to the size and success of the Pagosa Fiber Festival. Thus, community investment in the festival pays off.

Organizers of the festival, are intent upon putting Pagosa Springs on the map as a center of wool and fiber production, processing and handcrafts. The interest in spinning, weaving, knitting, etc. is already here and is growing by leaps and bounds. The tradition of raising fiber livestock has been here for a very long time. All the elements seem to be present. The festival board is looking for people of vision who realize the potential and would join in the effort to realize that potential.

Here is a flavor of what goes on during the two day festival:

• Half day and full day training workshops in Yarn Design by Inspiration, Crocheting Silk Flower Neck Warmers, Knitting with Beads/Japanese Kuhmihimo Braiding, Wet Felting a Hat, Two Handed/Two Color Knitting, Long Wool Spinning, Navajo Weaving Boot Camp, Beginning Spinning, Wet Felting a Nuno Scarf, Yarn Dyeing, Needle Felting a Bear and Sculptural Knitting of the Southwest.

• Questions and answers on the care and maintenance of small livestock.

• Livestock farmers exhibiting and selling alpacas, llamas, sheep, goats, Scottish Highlander cattle, and Fuzzy French Lops.

• Shearing of sheep and goats throughout the day.

• Fiber artists selling a variety of outstanding hand-made textiles and articles of clothing.

• Spinners demonstrating how to card, sort and spin fiber.

• Knitters, crocheters, weavers, and felters demonstrating how to utilize the finished yarn.

• Families with young children viewing and touching the animals, a unique and educational experience to be found nowhere else.

• The annual Navajo Rug Auction on Saturday; over 200 authentic Navajo rugs on display from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

• Fiber Arts Competition: Fiber artists will enter their prize creations from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m..

• Yarn Competition: from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday. Fiber artists will enter handspun yarns of every style, color and natural material imaginable in either advanced or novice classes.

The festival Web site, www.pagosafiberfestival.org, is available for

all information, guidelines and applications.

Alternately, for information on workshops and registration contact Nancy Wilson at (928) 567-6684 or spinllama@msn.com . For vendor or exhibitor space information, contact Barbara Witkowski, 264-4543 or ba_witkowski@yahoo.com. For general questions about the festival, contact Jane McKain at 264-4456 or jemckain@centurytel.net.


Photo courtesy Pauline Benetti
Alpacas from Navajo Lake Alpacas make for an interesting exhibit and experience for anyone attending the Pagosa Fiber Festival. The event is set for May 30-31 in downtown Pagosa Springs.