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Local economics and the Pagosa Fiber Festival

This year will mark will be the 11th 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 by one family — the Belt family of Echo Mountain Alpaca in 2001 — has now moved into the nonprofit 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 26-27, 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 begin on Tuesday, May 22, and will be held at the Pagosa Lodge and at the festival site on Saturday and Sunday

Anyone involved in the non-profit world will understand how this Festival depends on the effort and devotion of a few hard working people and the support and generosity of the community, especially our business folks. It is appropriate, then, that the community 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 2011 on Archuleta County identifies as its No. 1 goal to “Diversify the Economic Base and Create new Jobs. “ The Fiber Festival contributes to the achievement of this goal 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 community identifies as its values: preservation of its past, its heritage and the uniqueness of our local community. An important part of that past is the rural lifestyle and landscape. 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 or the Estes Park Fiber Festival estimated at 10,000. With a 30-year history behind it, the Taos event is now totally self-supporting with vendors bringing in close to $100,000 in sales. The towns of Estes Park and Taos have historically offered funding support over the years to help create and build a sound base for their fiber festivals to build upon.

The Pagosa Fiber Festival needs to grow significantly to reach that point. In 2011 attendance figures reached 1700 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! Some members of the Lodging Association have recognized the value of that investment by offering discounts to the folks coming to the Festival. These businesses are recognized on the Festival website.

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:

• Multi-day, half day and full day training workshops at the Pagosa Lodge and at the festival itself include Beginning Navajo Weaving (Ilene Naegel), Navajo Horse Cinch Weaving (Roy Kady), Making Watercolor Felt (Linda Smith), Nuno Felted Scarf (Lois Burbach), Natural Dyeing (Paula Seay), Introduction to High Whorl Spindling (Susan Jones) and Spinning Faux Boucle (Nancy Wilson). 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. Just walk up and get involved.

• Children’s classes and activities.

• 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, alpaca 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.

• 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.

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

There’s more than enough here to keep all members of the family busy and there is also good food for the whole family. It’s a great place to spend the day.

The festival website, www.pagosafiberfestival.com, is available for all information, guidelines and applications.

Alternately, for information on workshops and registration contact Nancy Wilson at (928) 567-6684 or workshopinfo@pagosafiberfestival.com. For vendor or exhibitor space information, contact Linda Smith at (970) 884-0502 or vendorinfo@pagosafiberfestival.com. With general questions about the festival, contact Bev Modisette at (970) 883.2246 or info@pagosafiberfestival.com.

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