By Laura Van
South Park City, the restored historical town within the town limits of Fairplay, opened for the 2011 season on Saturday, May 14, to sunny skies and warm temperatures in the 50s.
At 2 p.m. the skies were looking ominous and by 2:30 p.m. pellets composed of something between hail and tiny, soft snowballs were falling; lightning was streaking the sky, followed immediately by loud claps of thunder.
Before 3:30 p.m., South Park City closed all exhibits and was turning guests away with apologies.
Keeping South Park City open during a snowstorm can damage the buildings due to the snow being blown into the doorways and tracked into the rooms by guests.
“It makes too much of a mess to clean up the next day,” said Donna Breckenridge, gift shop clerk, to guests who were turned away and were browsing in the gift shop on Saturday afternoon.
With the lightning striking so close, this particular storm also presented a risk to guests out in the street, especially those near metal exhibits such as the narrow-gauge railroad locomotive.
Sunday, May 15, dawned with freshly fallen snow on the ground. The museum opened, but there was no electrical power. Cindy Huelsman, administrator for the museum, said via phone on May 16 that the cause of the outage was unknown. But because the power had not been restored by noon, the museum closed early for the second day in a row.
Lights are not noticeable to a casual observer, but they come on with sensors when buildings darken, as happened in the Saturday snowstorm. Without electricity, there is no power for the cash register and credit card machine, said Huelsman.
Ironically, the day before the museum officially opened — as employees were getting exhibits ready on a beautiful, 60-plus-degree day with calm winds — people were knocking on the doors wanting to visit the museum. And they were let in.
Visitors for Saturday, including those let in early on Friday, numbered about 35. On Sunday before the early closure, there were six tickets sold, according to Huelsman.
“The first two weeks of the season are typically slow,” said Finance Officer Nancy Kreiling, who keeps track of the number of visitors as part of her job.
But that changes. July and August have the greatest attendance. Last July, 4,262 visitors passed through the entry station, which was a 7 percent increase compared with the 3,969 visitors in July 2009.
But in August of last year, South Park City experienced a year-over-year decline.
There were 3,536 visitors last August, 11 percent fewer than the 3,925 in 2009.
For July and August together, the number of visitors dropped 1.2 percent, to .7,798 for the two months in 2010 versus 7,894 in the two months in 2009.
Figures were not readily available for the entire 2009 season versus 2010, but from mid-May when South Park City opens, through the end of August, the historical town saw 11,071 visitors in 2010, a 1.6 percent drop from the 11,255 visitors in 2009.
Kreiling said that in the busy days of July and August there are always more than 100 people per day touring South Park City.
New this year
There are no new exhibits this year, according to Huelsman.
But construction will begin as soon as the weather clears on exterior renovations and electrical updating of the Summer Brewery building — the historical town’s largest and most impressive structure — according to Carol Davis, curator of South Park ‘City.
The museum was awarded a grant for $90,334 last November from the Colorado State Historical Fund, which will cover 75 percent of the cost of the work. (See the Dec. 10, 2010, Flume.)
The historical town needs to raise the remaining 25 percent of the cost to receive the grant money, said Davis, but she said that construction will start this summer while matching funds continue to be raised.
To raise those funds, South Park City has a fundraiser called the “Bricks-N-Bottles” campaign. In this fundraiser, with a specified donation amount either a beer bottle or brick paver with a name or message of the donor’s choice will be displayed at the entrance or exit of the renovated Summer Brewery building. (See details of the Bricks-N-Bottles campaign at http/southparkcity.org.)
The museum is also accepting smaller donations for the matching funds requirement in whatever amount the giver wants to contribute.’ Davis did not have the figure readily available on how much more is needed in matching funds.
Saturday at South Park City
Aside from the typical May weather in South Park, the museum was ready to receive guests. The exhibits had been through a major cleaning before opening day.
Grace White and her family from Fort Carson — a U.S. Army installation near Colorado Springs — were among the last visitors to tour the museum before its early closure.
It was not her first visit, and she said she liked South Park City a lot and it was “well worth the drive.” White also said to expect a lot of military at the museum in July. She mentioned an annual military marital retreat in Keystone, Cob., that month, and out about South Park City as a great place to stop between Keystone and Fort Carson..
Saturday was the second day of work at the museum Laura McAninch, a sophomore at South Park High School. She has lived in Fairplay all her life and has been visiting South Park City since before she can remember. But she said she always sees something new. Friday, while helping get the museum ready for guests, she saw the mammoth bone exhibit for the first time, in a small room in the Summer Saloon building.
In February a new management team was put in place to take the place of the director who resigned last October, Linda Bjorklund.
Each of the three managers oversees her part of the operation, but contributes to the overall running of the museum as well. Kreiling, Huelsman and Davis are the three managers. Huelsman said the three bounce thoughts off of each other and that it helps in running the museum because of the different ideas that each bring to the table. She said ‘that it is the board of directors that makes final decisions on museum business.
Monday business as usual
Monday morning at South Park City dawned warm and sunny, with electrical power back in operation and a historical town full of guests. Huelsman said that besides a fair number of drop-in guests, a Summit County, Cob., school bus was parked in the lot and the children from Frisco were touring the exhibits.