SANDY HOOK -- We know hiking. We know llamas. But, did you know llama hiking is a thing?
"They do llama hikes in a lot of national forests and state parks," explains A.J. Collier of Rowanwood Farm, who now owns the only licensed llama hiking company in the state of Connecticut.
Hikers are assigned a furry friend who likes to be petted on the neck, not head.
The 2-mile trek through the Paugussett State Forest begins at the McLaughlin Vineyards, where owners aim to share 160 beautiful acres with the public in a family-friendly way.
"We have mountain bike trails and vintage baseball so the llamas kind of just fit right into the whole scene," explains General Manager Deedee Lynn. "It’s almost like a different world here. We’re really close to I-84 but when you come over the bridge it’s almost like going back in time."
As hikers stroll past the Shepaug Dam, which offers views of the Housatonic River, the llamas help to keep their friends engaged in the natural environment, especially during the steep parts of the trail.
"Who is going to be on what side? Llama’s feet are very agile. You want to have him on the outside. So, yes, I think you have to be a lot more vigilant," says Leslie Alexander, a local fiber artist and volunteer. "We can hike through the woods but when you’re with your dog, it just enhances the whole experience and then to hike with a llama and to bond with a llama is just something wholly different."
These working animals are loyal and intelligent. They need and want plenty of exercise.
"Just walking your own llama, there’s something so magical to it," says Collier, noting participants often become attached to their 200-pound buddies. "I want people to leave feeling they’ve learned something about another living creature or respect and love for animals."
The 2-hour treks -- which take place Wednesdays through Sundays -- cost $40 per person. Kids must be 12 and over to walk a llama.
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