By Veronica Sandate Craker
In a matter of days the Tri-Cities will be overrun with fluffy alpacas batting their big eyes and showing off their silky fur as the Northwest Alpaca Showcase sets up shop at TRAC.
The two-day event will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 28 and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 29. This annual event has been known to draw in more than 400 alpacas and 150 breeders from across the Northwest. This is the fifth year the Tri-Cities will host to the event, which has been running successfully for the past 18 years.
“We attract people from five states —Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and California,” Nikki Griffith said. “So really it’s a big draw.”
Griffith is the president of the Pacifica Northwest Alpaca Association and she owns an alpaca farm with her husband, Collins, in Kennewick.
“This year there’s actually two events running simultaneously and the newest one is called the Fiber Festival,” Griffith said.
The festival will showcase the increasingly popular alpaca fur, which can be used to make, socks, scarves, purses, rugs and much more. In addition to the Fiber Festival, the alpacas themselves will be judged.
“Judges are looking for the confirmation, their overall health and they look at their fibers for consistency and uniformity for density and fineness as well as luster and brilliance and staple length,” said Sandy Sanders, who owns Yakima River Alpacas in Richland.
“When I started seven years ago, I’d never heard of alpacas,” Sanders said.
Today she is an experienced alpaca breeder and she will show two if her animals this year, Lida Rose and Sebela.
At the Fiber Festival, contestants enter various types of fiber into a competition.
“People will enter the fiber contest in different categories, so if you’ve made an artifact you can enter in a whole bunch of different categories,” Griffith said.
For instance, Griffith said, you can enter spun yarn to be judged, but if you have also created something out of that yard, like a hat or scarf, you may enter that into another category.
“ The fiber festival is open to all fibers but we’re hoping to showcase alpaca fibers,” she added.
The festival will also feature classes and seminars going on spinning, weaving and felting.
“All of this is open to the public and it’s an absolute terrific show — so the public can go in and watch for two days and watch as the alpacas are shown,” Sanders said.
The show will also display some of the latest technology in fur handling.
“We just made a very big commitment with two other farms in the area and bought a very large felt loom which is a 5-foot-wide piece of equipment that allows us to turn the fiber into bats that we can then turn into felt, which we can then turn into products,” Griffith said. “So we just finished our training on that and we’ll have that at the TRAC. Fewer then 60 of them have been manufactured in the world.”
Nikki and Dan Griffith teamed up with two other farms, Tres Aguas Alpacas and Uber Alpacas, to purchase the new machine, she said.
The showcase is free and open to the public. To find out more about the alpaca farms in the area visit www.tri-citiesalpacas.com.