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Furry Fiber Animals In Southwest Washington? Alpaca My Bags!


Huayaca alpacas from Strawberry Fields Ranch at Clark County's 19th annual Alpacapalooza.

Huayaca alpacas from Strawberry Fields Ranch at Clark County's 19th annual Alpacapalooza.

Molly Solomon/OPB

Alpaca lovers, rejoice!

This weekend, Washington’s Clark County brings back its 19th annual Alpacapalooza. The event celebrates the fluffy, smaller South American cousin of the llama.

More than 60 alpaca farms participated in this year’s event, as well as retailers and shops selling everything from scarves to shoe insoles made from alpaca fleece.

“It’s a lot of camaraderie,” said Tina Durham-Bars, the president of the Alpaca Association of Western Washington, the organization behind Alpacapalooza. She and her husband also own Stellar Alpaca, a six-acre ranch in Spanaway, Washington.

“People come here from Oregon, Idaho, Arizona to see who’s breeding the best animals,” she said. “But it’s also a perfect family event. You can pet the animals, feel their fleece — and this year we even have a selfie booth.”

And while alpacas are cute to look at, they’re also a big industry. Some of the best fleece can be sold for up to $100 a pound.

Award-winning alpaca fiber for sale at Alpacapalooza.

Award-winning alpaca fiber for sale at Alpacapalooza.

Molly Solomon/OPB

“It’s softer than wool, it’s warmer than wool,” Durham-Bars said. “It’s also softer and warmer than cashmere.” 

The event highlights the Pacific Northwest’s dominance in the alpaca industry. Washington and Oregon boast the second and third most alpacas in the country, second only to the state of Ohio.

But many of the farmers at Alpacapalooza stumbled into the career by accident. Chris Sturgeon and his wife, Elise, worked in the mental health field for years. Their obsession with alpacas started when they paid a visit to this very event 11 years ago.

“I was trying to find something fun for his birthday,” said Elise. “I saw Alpacapalooza and I thought, whatever it is — let’s do that! And the next thing I know we have alpacas.”

Strawberry Fields owner Chris Sturgeon.

Strawberry Fields owner Chris Sturgeon.

Molly Solomon/OPB

They now have well over 100 and growing on their farm, Strawberry Fields. In case you couldn’t tell from the name, Chris and Elise are also huge Beatles fans.

“Our first alpaca, Brown Sugar, had a baby and we named her Abbey Road,” Chris explained. “The Beatles have over 300 songs and characters in them. We use that theme when we name them.”

Yellow Submarine, Ringo — even Linda after Paul McCartney’s late wife.

“We sold McCartney, but we kept Linda,” Elise added.

The event draws more than just farmers, fans of the furry animals also flock to the show.

Michelle McLaren stopped to take a photo of an especially fluffy alpaca with her two friends.

“They’re soft, nice, and just the most curious creatures I’ve ever seen,” she said.

Our conversation didn’t last long, the alpaca’s owner invited McLaren and her friends to pet one and she quickly accepted without skipping a beat.

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OPB | Broadcast: Nov. 29, 2012