With hundreds of wide-eyed alpacas cavorting about the pastureland at several farms in Springfield – including the farm at Maple Hill Manor, which is the home of the largest Suri alpaca breeding program in the state – it makes sense that this tiny town of 2,519 would become the originating site of the new Kentucky Fiber Trail. Visitors can now go behind-the-scenes and see each stage of the fiber-making process, from hobby farm to production to end product.
As the star attraction of the Trail, the alpacas add more charm than you can shake a hank of yarn at. They are gentle and inquisitive spirits with floppy tufts of fur atop guileless eyes and coy little smiles. They gaze at the world like trusting babes and cock their heads disarmingly on slender necks. And they provide some of the silkiest, softest and most versatile fiber you’ll ever run your fingers over.
At Serano Alpacas & Yarns, farmers Judi and Ron Alread will take you on a guided farm and history tour to see their Huacaya alpacas and learn how their fiber goes from fluffy fleece to fashion. You’ll see the shearing shed and feed the alpacas. You’ll also learn how to “speak alpaca” – a lilting hum alpacas voice whether they are happy, scared, nervous, curious or feeling cautious.
“Come to our farm and learn why alpaca fiber has been revered since the time of the Incas,” said Judi Alread, “And see what we do with nearly 200 pounds of fiber each year.”
The farm is open for tours year-round. You can also shop at the Farm Store for Made-in-the-USA handcrafted alpaca yarns, socks and mittens, plus spinning and knitting supplies. And if you show up on a Thursday, mid-morning, you’ll be able to join Judi for her free weekly knitting or crocheting class. Just call ahead and make sure the Alreads are home.
In contrast to Serano’s Huacaya alpacas, which have a dense, crimped fleece with a wooly touch (think Teddy bear texture), Maple Hill Manor raises Suri alpacas, which are characterized by long fur that forms silky dreadlocks. In addition to its alpaca farm, Maple Hill Manor is an award-winning bed and breakfast inn with a Farm Store that stocks hats, scarves, mittens, Teddy bears and more, all made from the alpaca fiber.
You can book a farm stay overnight and meet the alpacas while relaxing in a sumptuous, antique-laden room and enjoying a full-on china and crystal gourmet country breakfast the next morning.
At Campbell’s West Wind Farm, a wool art studio located on the Lincoln Heritage Scenic Highway-Byway, you can take a class in the centuries-old craft of wool sculpting (needle felting), spinning, weaving and natural dyeing. Norma Jean Campbell, farmer, artist and instructor, is well-known for her woven pieces made from patterns once owned and used by Nancy Hanks, Abraham Lincoln’s mother. In fact, you can pick up a woven piece, or other items, in the onsite gift shop.
Norma Jean teaches monthly classes and conducts history strolls on her farm, which sits on land originally homesteaded by General Matthew Walton. Walton, who served in the Revolutionary War, built the two-room brick house in 1784 that Norma Jean now uses as her studio. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places. The studio is open by appointment, Tuesday through Friday, April through December.
The new Altera/US Natural Fibers, an alpaca, sheep and goat fiber processing plant that is also the home of Royalty Fiber Farm Corporate Headquarters, is the place that connects all the dots on the Kentucky Fiber Trail. Learn about the process of turning fiber into beautiful yarns. Tour the showroom/store of the only U.S. manufacturing plant for alternative fibers. Watch the scouring, dehairing and spinning processes – and visit the gift shop for socks, yarns and other natural fiber products.
One-hour tours are held at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Tours begin at Altera on Lincoln Park Road (in the Parkview IGA complex) and move to the USNF Manufacturing Plant, less than a mile away.
Once you’ve traversed the Kentucky Fiber Trail, you’ll never look at an alpaca quite the same way. But you can bet they will gaze at you with the same happy inquisitiveness.