Alpacas, a Climbing Adventure, and Kentucky By Design

By John Gregory | 2/09/17 9:00 AM

Chickens and beef cattle may dominate Kentucky’s farm fields, but a Boone County couple is trying to add some diversity to the agricultural landscape with their herd of alpacas.

Kentucky Life visited the farm of Greg and Linda Salisbury to learn about alpacas and their highly prized fleece. The program also visited a company that offers rock climbing adventures in the Red River Gorge, and explored how a New Deal project of the 1930s highlighted the work of the state’s artisans.

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Eagle Bend Alpacas
With 150 animals, the Salisburys believe they have the state’s largest alpaca herd on their northern Kentucky farm near Burlington. Although generally associated with the Andes Mountains of South America, alpacas actually lived in North America thousands of years ago, explains Greg Salisbury. He says alpaca bone fossils have been found in every state. Either because of predation or climate change, alpacas eventually found a home in the upper elevations of South America.

Alpacas are related to llamas, which were bred as a pack animal, but are smaller in stature, topping out at about 150 pounds. They’re highly prized for their thick, luxurious fleece that wraps from the tops of their heads down to nearly their hooves. Combine that with their expressive faces and alpacas have a look that’s infinitely huggable.

“They’re not like other livestock,” Greg Salisbury says. “Being with them is a treat.”

“They’re like people: they each have their own personality,” says Linda Salisbury. “We fit in with their permission… They trust us, the let us care for them as needed, so there is a mutual fondness, I think.”

When the Salisburys started raising alpacas in 2005, they bred and sold the animals. Now they’re gaining a reputation for the alpaca fiber they produce, which the Salisburys sell raw, spun into yarn, or crafted into products.

“We want to raise animals that produce fine, dense fleece that are known nationally,” says Greg.

The Salisburys invite visitors to their Eagle Bend Alpacas farm during their annual shearing in late April, and for several other events throughout the year. They also participate in the Kentucky Wool Festival in Falmouth, an event that Linda says draws up to 8,000 people. This year’s festival is scheduled for the first weekend in October.
Learn more at the Eagle Bend Alpacas website

Climbing the Gorge
The many sandstone cliff faces of Kentucky’s Red River Gorge have long attracted accomplished rock climbers seeking a new challenge. Now day-trippers without climbing expertise can also experience the thrill of scaling some of the gorge’s dramatic formations.

Torrent Falls Climbing Adventures of Campton has brought the nation’s first Via Ferrata to Red River Gorge. Translated as “iron way,” the Via Ferrata is a 3,000-foot course along a horseshoe-shaped canyon in the gorge. For safety, climbers wear a harness that clips into a steel cable that runs along the cliff. As they traverse the course, climbers use iron hand and foot holds anchored into the rock to ascend and descend the canyon.

“We offer a complete program, where somebody who’s never done this before can come in and do Via Ferrata.” says Daniel Wilkes. “They get the feel of being up off the ground and what it’s like to actually be climbing.”

For those who want to develop their rock skills, the company offers beginner, intermediate, and advanced training in climbing and rappelling. Wilkes says those classes are designed for people who have scaled indoor climbing walls and want to transition to outdoor routes.

“When you’re out on a guided rock climbing trip, the holds might be a little less obvious, smaller, or around a corner where you can’t see them,” Wilkes says. “So that’s part of the challenge of the guided rock climbing is really figuring out how to move your hands and feet up the rock to get you up to the top of the climbing route.”

Wilkes says the gorge has become a destination for sport climbers because so many routes already have anchors set into the cliffs here. Plus he says the sandstone geology of the area creates a unique experience for climbers.

“The rock here is just really fun,” Wilkes says. “The hand and footholds that you find in the rock are really different from what you would see indoors. The texture is really good, so you feel like you have really good grip on the rock.”

Climbing in Red River Gorge is a never-ending adventure, concludes Wilkes, an excellent way to stay active and healthy.

Learn more at Torrent Falls website

Kentucky by Design
During the depths of the Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs created jobs for millions of Americans. Along with constructing schools, courthouses, parks, dams, and other large-scale public projects, a group of artists documented the works of craftspeople across the country.

An exhibit closing Feb. 12 at the Frasier History Museum in Louisville features Kentucky’s contributions to the Federal Art Project’s Index of American Art.

Frasier President and CEO Penelope Peavler says the Kentucky part of the Index was curated by Adele Brandeis, niece of Louisville-born U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. She travelled the state visiting private homes and museums to find the finest examples of 19th century arts and crafts that needed to preserved for future generations. Then artists were hired to paint watercolors of each of those items. The Kentucky paintings along with watercolor depictions from other states were compiled into the Index of American Art.

“I think one of the great benefits of the Index was to elevate the craftsperson as an important member of America’s cultural community,” says Erika Doss, American studies professor at the University of Notre Dame. “To say craftspeople are just as important and craft is just as important as fine arts.”

The Frasier exhibit, called Kentucky by Design, features a collection of 85 of those paintings coupled with the original objects that inspired them. Peavler says the watercolors have been stored at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

“All the ones that we’re showing in this exhibition we have here got framed up particularly for the exhibit,” Peavler says. “We’re bringing things to Kentucky that haven’t been seen in 80 years since they were hand painted.”

The Frasier exhibit is the first show to highlight the contributions of a single state to the Index. Through the Federal Art Project, the Index helped ensure that the arts of a then-bygone era would not be lost to the ages.

“One of the main points here is to take time to look at what’s around you and to see the beauty in the everyday,” says Peavler. “This is something that modern Americans could benefit from.”

The Kentucky by Design exhibit is featured in a new Kentucky Muse documentary produced by KET.

Visit the Frazier Museum’s website