Muddy Frogwater jumps on the camel bandwagon

Izzy is the star of Smiling Camel Productions photo booth.

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Aidan Stiller, 5, laughs hysterically as Izzy the camel nibbles carrot slices out of his hand at this year’s Muddy Frogwater Festival on Saturday.

MILTON-FREEWATER — The opening of the 29th Annual Muddy Frogwater Country Classic Festival was going smoothly Friday, with only one noticeable hump in the road.

That hump wasn’t the missing watermelons, which arrived around 4 p.m., freshly donated by Walchli Farms of Hermiston.

Two industrial-sized bins were loaded in the back of a half-ton pickup, which was listing slightly from the weight.

"Last year they were bigger," said Cheryl York of the Milton-Freewater Chamber of Commerce, the organization that runs the Muddy Frogwater. And a conversation followed as to a possible cause of the smaller melons being the cooler summer.

Still, the two bins of yellow- and green-striped fruits were impressive. None looked smaller than 20 pounds. And all would go a long way to helping raise close to $10,000 at Muddy Frogwater, which is the chamber’s largest fundraiser, York said.

"I think we can use 10," York said to Mitch Odman, the volunteer who drove over the two bins. Odman then began unloading 10 of the largest fruits for the watermelon-eating contest.

"I hope you don’t have a seed spitting contest because I think these are seedless," Odman joked.

York then turned her attention to her first Hip-Hop Mania contest, trying to determine where to set the course.

But there was no hump here, as she carefully scanned Yantis Park, eyeing a route through the arts and crafts booths, food vendors and carnival rides.

"We are just trying to figure how to lay it out," she said, and she took a moment to determine if she would route the hip hoppers by the floating frog pond.

For the most part, Muddy Frogwater looked pretty much like last year, with a climbing wall and inflatable slide, cotton candy and elephant ears, and numerous arts and crafts and community service booths.

It all looked just like previous years, except for that one hump.

Izzy the dromedary — a one-hump Arabian camel — made his debut Friday.

"It is definitely the first camel that we have had," York said.

She recalled what she said when Izzy’s owner, Mickey Richards of Waitsburg, called her and asked if he could set up his Smiling Camel Productions photo booth.

"I think I said, ‘Did you say a camel? Like a real live camel?’" York said.

A 2-year-old camel to be exact. Too young to be ridden, Richards explained, but he is old and tame enough to have his picture taken with people of all ages, though the children liked him the most, especially Alex Hall.

"Its lips are all hairy and weird, and when he touches you it’s like all hairy and whiskers," Hall said.

The girl then reached through the enclosure for another caress of Izzy’s head, paying no attention to his hairy lips.

"He’s extremely sweet. When we do pictures 95 percent of the time he is smiling," Richards said. And the proof was visible in Izzy’s swooning, as he leaned into Hall’s caressing hand.

"He’s actually an extremely good looking camel," Richards added, pointing out that some camels can be ugly.

When Richards got the idea of setting up a photo booth, he wasn’t thinking of the hairy-lipped Izzy, but instead wanted a Brahma bull after seeing a similar photo booth in operation.

But after extensive research, and while attending a horse show in Boise, he learned from Izzy’s then owner that the camel was for sale because the owner had health problems.

Though the price was undisclosed, Richards pointed out that camels go for $4,000 and up in the United States.

The two now travel to fairs, motorcycle shows, Bible schools, wineries, weddings and other events, where Richards sets up a steel corral, laptop computer and photo printer.

"Pretty much anywhere that draws a crowd. And he does draw attention," he said, adding that Izzy thrives on it.

"He will actually get upset if people don’t pay attention to him," Richards said.

At the moment, Aiden and Gabriel Murf, 4 and 2, were paying attention to Izzy. The younger human was trying to figure out how to crawl under the corral bar, which he had already done earlier. Gabriel’s grandparents didn’t seem the least bit concerned.

"He really likes the kids. As soon as he saw them he nuzzled up and wanted them to pet him," Debbie Burgess said.

Her husband, Bill, said the feeling was mutual.

"We came over for breakfast and they (Aiden and Gabriel) got to pet him. And they wanted to do it again," he said.

The cost for a picture with Izzy is $10 and up. But petting is free.

As for making a profit, Richards said his initial costs were minimal because he already keeps about 10 horses. Izzy pastures with two stallions. He does fine with one, but the other just tolerates him.

Even if Smiling Camel Productions doesn’t pencil out, Richard will keep Izzy.

"It doesn’t really matter, because he is also my buddy," Richards said.

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