Bookmark and Share

Pagosa Fiber Festival makes good economic sense

2010 will be the 10th 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 501 c (3) status and a board of directors. This year the festival will take place May 29 and 30 and, as last year, the venue is Town Park. Organizers are counting on warm days and blue skies and an end to the wind that has been blowing everything about. Both the fiber arts workshops (May 27-28) and the Navajo Rug Auction (Saturday at 5 p.m.) will be held 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 local tourism organizations. 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, 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 Pagosa 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 Pagosa 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 ensure 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 2009 attendance figures exceeded 1,700 and vendor sales reached, approximately, $30,000 worth of hand-crafted products. A percentage of that goes directly to the town and county coffers as sales tax revenue. 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 on 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 community center. On Thursday: Felting a Hat, Introduction to Plant Dyes, Beginning Spinning, A Smorgasbord of Camelid Fibers, Entrelac Knitting. On Friday: Nuno Felting A Scarf, Beginning Spinning, Introduction to Fiber Beadmaking, Knitting Without Needles, Locker Hooking, Colcha Embroidery. Interested? Check the festival website for registration details.

• Mini-workshops and demonstrations at the festival on Saturday: Crockpot Dyeing, Intro to Knitting with Beads, Corking, Felted Soap and Cat Toy, Sorting/Skirting a Fleece, Knitting with Roving. On Sunday: Same as above with addition of Preparing Your Yarn for Judging and Beginning Needle Felting. Interested? Just walk up and get involved.

• 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 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 at the community center on Saturday at 5 p.m. Over 200 authentic Navajo rugs on display from 10 to 5 on Saturday.

• Fiber Arts Competition: Fiber artists will enter their prize creations (both garments and home accessories) from 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday morning, offering the public a view of wonderfully handcrafted pieces of clothing and home accessories.

• Yarn Competition: from 9 to 10 a.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 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 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.