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Fiber Festival makes good economic sense

2011 will be the 10th anniversary of the Pagosa Fiber Festival and the festival board is quite proud of its accomplishments. What began as an event conceived of and sponsored in 2001 by one family — the Belt family of Echo Mountain Alpaca — has now moved into the non-profit world with 501(c)(3) status and a board of directors. As is the tradition, the festival takes place on Memorial Day weekend, Saturday and Sunday May 28 and 29, and as usual, the venue is Town Park. Some things don’t change. Organizers are counting on warm days and blue skies and an end to the wind that has been blowing everything about. The fiber arts workshops (Friday the 27) will be held in the Pagosa Youth Center adjacent to the festival grounds and the Navajo Rug Auction (Saturday at 5 p.m.) will be at the Ross Aragon 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 grants from our County Tourism Committee. It is appropriate, then, that the community come to understand how the festival makes good economic sense for Pagosa.

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

The Region 9 Report of 2006 on Archuleta County 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 County 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 same 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 2010. The Taos event is now totally self-supporting with vendors bringing in close to $100,000 in sales. The Pagosa Fiber Fest needs to grow significantly to reach that point. In 2010 attendance figures reached 2000 and vendor sales reached, approximately, $35,000 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 goes back to the huge sheep herds of the 1800s. 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 at the Pagosa Youth Center on Friday - Beaded Yarn, Beginning Spinning, Ten Ways of Plying, Pine Needle Basketry, Floral Gardens in Sculptural Knitting and Wet Felting a Vessel. Interested? Check the Festival website for registration details.

• Mini-Workshops and demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday, no registration, just drop in. Free or very low cost. Saturday – Let’s Talk Alpacas (the “Huggable” Investment), Learn to use a Spindle, Dye Plants for a Colorado Garden. On Sunday: Lichens make Purple, Core Spinning, Starting Out with Sheep and Goats, Locker Hooking Demo, Fix Your Wheel and Triangle Loom. Interested? Just walk up and get involved.

• Children’s Classes and Activities: Spool knitting, Dyeing with Kool Aid, Felt-A-Fiber and Story Hour for Kids with puppets.

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

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

• Shearing of sheep and goats throughout the day.

• Fiber artists selling a variety of outstanding handmade 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 at the Ross Aragon Community Center on Saturday at 5 p.m. reception at 4; 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 (both Garments and Home Accessories) by 11 a.m. on Friday for judging that afternoon; entries will then be displayed Saturday and Sunday, offering the public a view of wonderfully handcrafted pieces of clothing and home accessories.

• Yarn Competition: Fiber Artists will enter their prize handspun yarns by 11 a.m. on Friday for judging that afternoon; entries will then be displayed for public viewing on Saturday and Sunday..

• New the year — a fleece competition; the public will come up close and personal to the newly shorn fleece of sheep, alpaca, llama or goat.

Way more than enough here to keep all members of the family busy and there is also good food for the whole family. A great place to spend the day.

The festival website 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 Darlene Cassio at 264-0562 or darcassio@cassiogroup.com For general questions about the festival, contact Bev Modisette at 883-2246 or bevmodisette@pdq.net.

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