BURLINGTON, Colorado — After their longest break in decades, the 46 hand-carved animals aboard Kit Carson County’s famous carousel will be back at it again – even though rides on one of eastern Colorado’s biggest attractions will still be $0.25, just like they have been for generations.
The carousel didn’t open in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though people who wanted to see the unique and historic attraction could still peek at the horses through a window.
“We didn’t want them to feel left out!” said Jo Downey, who’s been involved with the carousel since 1975. “It’s the first time it hadn’t operated since 1931.”
> Watch the video above for a 2016 9NEWS report on the story behind the Kit Carson County Carousel.
This summer, the Kit Carson County Carousel is back, and will reopen at 11 a.m. on Saturday. It will continue to operate until Labor Day, before taking its usual rest during the fall and winter.
COVID-19 was just a small chapter in the carousel’s lifespan. It was built in 1905, meaning that it's survived the 1918 flu pandemic, World Wars I and II, natural disasters, economic downturns and even thieves.
What we’re saying is, it’s a big deal, and it’s been bringing people to Burlington since before it became the gateway to Colorado via Interstate 70.
This story is part of the weekly 9Neighborhoods series, where we have highlighted places around Colorado for more than five years. We put it on hold during COVID-19, but are bringing it back now that the guidance has changed around traveling. Have recommendations for places to check out and people to meet? Email me at
Travel came to a halt in spring 2020, and Hudler said that had a "huge impact" on Burlington, a community where his family owned a local newspaper for five generations.
Even though it's surrounded by cornfields and the prairie -- and the local radio station periodically lists the prices for soy beans, beef and wheat -- agriculture isn't the sole monetary driver.
“Actually the local people don’t have any idea how important the tourism is to the economy," Hudler said. "It’s a tremendous boost, there’s no question about that.”
Nikki Wall, the director of Burlington's Old Town Museum, said the COVID-19 pandemic had one unexpected benefit.
“People are taking road trips – maybe more so than air travel, and so they’re stopping at these off-the-beaten path locations, and they’re taking the time to tour things they wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to stop and see, and of course that benefits us greatly," she said.
Wall said she expects travel to greatly bounce back in 2021, and that means more visitors at the interactive museum that's home to numerous historic buildings that are filled with antiques.
It's just on the other side of town from the Kit Carson County Carousel, which is also expecting a big return to normalcy after a year that was anything but.
"It’s loved," Downey said. "People bring their children and the 40 years I’ve been working on it, I have people that rode it as kids and they're bringing their kids back."
“I think what we’ve gotten as we’ve posted it’s going to be back, they’re so glad, we have people that travel every summer from every state, it’s a tradition to ride it.”
What's changed since the pandemic?
Wall, who's lived in Burlington since 2013, said the community's agricultural heritage proved to be a blessing when the country shut down.
"I feel like we're such a rural community and all of our jobs are the medical field or agricultural-related, they were deemed necessary, and they were clicking along for the most part," she said.
The Kit Carson Carousel decided to stay closed in an effort to keep visitors out of Eastern Colorado, and the Old Town Museum is a large facility that is conducive to social distancing.
Hudler said one real benefit of Burlington is the lack of traffic and ability to drive from one end of town to the other in 15 minutes -- something that might seem like a dream to people in Denver, who can barely make it from one end of the Trader Joe's parking lot to the other in the same time period.
“It’s a more tranquil, peaceful life," Hudler said.
It's also cheaper than the Denver metro area. According to Zillow, the median cost of a home in Burlington is $187,000, and Wall said this has brought new people to the community of roughly 3,500 people.
"I've definitely seen a few transplants, if you will," she said. "We've spoken to a few people who've come in, they just decided we can work from anywhere now and our careers let us do that, and we want a small town and to get out of the city."
“There’s just good people that live out here, and we’re close enough to Denver and DIA that it doesn’t take that long to get there," Hudler said.
Spending a day in Burlington
The town is about 170 miles away from Denver going the opposite direction of the usual I-70 traffic. The drive takes around 2.5 hours, and winds through Colorado's Eastern Plains and numerous other small towns.
The first stop I made was the Old Town Museum, which is located at 420 S. 14th St. and close to the interstate. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Tickets cost $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, $4 for children 12-17, $2 for kids 3-11 and are free for kids younger than 3 or military personnel.
The museum is made up of 20,000 objects, photographs and documents that tell the story of Burlington's early days from the 1880s to 1940s. Those are housed in numerous historic buildings, and you can actually walk inside and see what they could have looked like 100 years ago.
There was also a house of dolls, which I would not want to be in charge of cleaning alone at night.
Wall said this weekend, the museum will commemorate the holiday a high noon show and live gunfights, with cancan dancers and cowboys (she said the museum is a memorable summer job for area teens).
Once you've gotten your fix of the museum (it could take a few hours -- it's pretty cool!), take the drive through the town's center and down the historic Main Street to the Kit Carson County Carousel.
Like we said above, it will reopen for the season at 11 a.m. on Saturday. It's hours are normally 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Rides are $0.25, but there's a donation box for people who want to contribute to its preservation. The museum onsite costs a whopping $1, and is free for kids under nine.
The carousel's history really deserves to be its own article, and to learn more, click here.
“The animals resting for a year didn’t hurt them, and if only they could talk, they’ve been out there for a long time," Downey said.
During a visit to Burlington with kids, Wall recommends checking out Parmer Park, which she said has an awesome splash pad.
Hudler called the Dish Room off South Lincoln Street "one of the best restaurants in the state."
If you're a fan of wine (and honestly who isn't), the town of Burlington is about 20 minutes away from the Claremont Inn and Winery in Stratton.
It's a 2.5 hour drive to Burlington, but it's no worse than a drive to Summit County in I-70 traffic.
Colorado's Eastern Plains have their own beauty, and it's worth exploring and supporting this summer after a year that kept us at home.
Click through the gallery below for scenes from Burlington:
PHOTOS: Scenes from Burlington, Colorado
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Colorado’s History