Fairplay: The real South Park, Colorado

FAIRPLAY - Friendly faces everywhere. Humble folks without temptation.

It’s the familiar description Stan and Kyle subscribe to their hometown in the animated T.V. show South Park.

While there is no actual town of ‘South Park,’ Fairplay, a small town 85 miles southwest of Denver, is about as close as it gets. The town was once named South Park City and is the largest community in the real South Park, a valley surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks and several rivers, such as Middle Fork South Platte River and Beaver Creek.

It also has a restored mining town that’s a recreation of early Colorado days and the famous Burro Days festival, where attendees enjoy festivities, including prizes, rides, and of course, the world-famous Running of the Burros.

In all reality, Fairplay, the county seat of Park County, is a great place to take in all things Colorado — fishing, hunting, hiking and more.

Fairplay’s long mining history

Before 1859, the Tarryall Creek was a quiet, meandering tributary flowing through the South Park valley. Then, gold was found.

Hundreds of aspiring miners rushed to the area to set up camps all along the waterway. Those who got their first claimed large plots of land, forcing newcomers to respect their authority.

Those who showed up a bit later were upset that they were left out so began their own mining operation at the intersection of Beaver Creek and the South Platte. They referred to the other mining camps as the “Graball” and vowed that anyone who came their way would be offered an equal opportunity. Because of that, their camp was called Fair Play.

For a while, the camp prospered on gold alone. But soon, some clever miners found even more, and more stable, money in mining the hard rock surrounding the area.

By 1860, some entrepreneurs moved in, realizing they could make a living by providing food, shelter and other services to the miners. The mining camp was quickly becoming a town.

In March 1869, the people of Fair Play voted to incorporate the town under the name “South Park City.” The vote was successful and the town was officially formed.

But, the name change was largely ignored outside of the town. It was officially changed back to Fairplay in 1874.

Through the 1870s the town continued to grow with the help of the arrival of the South Park and Pacific Railroad in 1879.

By the 1920s Fairplay was the largest town in South Park.

South Park City

In 1957, Fairplay came up with a plan to pay homage to its roots with the construction of a museum on the edge of town. But this would not be any ordinary museum.

The brand new South Park Historical Foundation bought land where seven historic buildings were sitting. They then collected other mining and historic buildings from around South Park and moved them to the site.

Excited by the idea, the citizens of South Park chipped in, donating roughly 40,000 historic items to the cause.

Called "South Park City," the museum now consists of 43 historic buildings and structures as well as 60,000 artifacts fashioned after an old mining town from the 1860s to 1890s.

Visitors are able to stroll through each of the buildings, set up like they would have been at the time. Admission is $10 for adults (after all, anything that’s fun costs at least eight dollars) and the museum is open daily May 15 through October 15.

Get yur ass up the pass

Each year, Fairplay is flooded with nearly 10,000 people for its signature event: Burro Days.

Since 1949, the town has hosted the festival, capped by the World Championship Pack Burro Race.

Celebrating the role of the burro in Fairplay’s mining days, teams of a person and a donkey loaded with a minimum of 33 pounds of prospecting gear compete in the race. The runner and their donkey then run side-by-side 29.5 miles from Front Street in Fairplay, up over Mosquito Pass and back to Fairplay. And no matter what, the runner cannot ride the burro.

The festival also includes a llama race, a BBQ and barn dance, live music, a pancake breakfast, a parade, outhouse races, an arts and crafts fair, rides, games and other entertainment.

Always held the last full weekend in July, this year’s Burro Days festival is this weekend. The Pack Burro Race starts on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. The first finishers are expected to return at about 4:00 p.m.

Exploring the outdoors

Because of its location, Fairplay is a haven for the outdoors.

Within town is the Fairplay Beach, popular with anglers. That section of river was improved by the town to create a better habitat for trout that can now regularly by seen rising in the pool.

Modern gold-seekers can also try their luck panning in designated areas along the beach.

For those who want to get a little outside of town, a massive trail system is easily accessible within a few miles and the Fairplay town office offers a variety of driving tour maps of the nearby area.

The town is also home to a disk golf course and skate park.

Living in and visiting Fairplay today

The town of Fairplay itself is pretty small, with a population of just over 700, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It functions as Park County's center of commerce, with a plenty of lodging, retail and dining options, as well as a local art community.

Most of that commerce will be found along Fairplay's Main Street, as well as on the western side of town along the historic Front Street.

Many businesses play off the town's reputation of being the real "South Park," something that's often reflected in their names and merchandise.

Shopping is plentiful in the town, which has everything from small boutiques like High Paw Pet Supply, Bizarre Bazaar (a book store), Roxine's Doll Shoppe and Rustik Ranch (a home goods store), to big-box companies like Office Depot and Family Dollar.

Fairplay's art scene is prominent, too, with a host of galleries and shops dedicated to everything from pottery, to horse paintings, to studio arts, to beads and more.

The Java Moose is a great little breakfast spot, serving burritos, pastries, bagels and paninis, along with house-brewed coffee. Just up the street, Brown Burro Cream & Steam is a quaint teahouse that is known for having "the best dessert in town." Another must-visit dessert spot? The South Park Fudge Factory on Front Street.

Local favorites include the Brown Burro Café (serving a mix of Mexican and American fare) on Main Street, plus Millonzi's Restaurant (a healthy/small plate option) and Park Bar, both on Front Street.

For beer lovers, there's South Park Brewing. The craft brewery has it all, cream ales, pale ales, a pilsner, IPAs, stouts and more.

Living in Fairplay costs a bit less than in metro Denver, where median home prices have topped $390,000. The median price for all-size properties in Fairplay stands at $370,000, according to Trulia.com. Rent for all-size properties stands at $1,650.

So, come on down to South Park and see if you can’t unwind.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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