Laura Van Dusen, Correspondent
South Park City, the restored 1880s town in Fairplay, opened mid-week on Wednesday, May 15. And the staff is ready.
“I’m excited for the new year,” said Museum Administrator Cindy Huelsman. “We’re ready for more excitement this year; there’s always something that happens here.”
Curator/Registrar Carol Davis, who is beginning her 41st year at South Park City, is upbeat about prospects for the summer. “It’s looking good so far,” she said.
Four years ago Davis was curator, registrar, administrator and finance officer. That’s when she told the board of directors that she couldn’t do it all anymore, that she didn’t want to leave, but she just wanted to “do the fun stuff.” And now Davis is only the curator/registrar – the person who oversees and keeps records on the museum collection.
And she likes that.
“It’s still fun,” she said.
Also on staff are Nancy Kreiling, finance officer, Will Kaufman, grounds maintenance employee, and 11 part-time seasonal employees.
Attendance was light on opening day, with 12 guests viewing the museum; it was a warm day with temperatures in the low 50s. By noon the following day – another pleasant late spring day – an additional 16 visitors were tallied at the visitor center.
Those figures represent one more guest each day than last year’s opening two days on Mother’s Day weekend, when the weather included occasional snow showers.
A treat for the first visitors this year was sight of a litter of six fox kits peeking out from their den under the blue pioneer home. The kits are about two months old; they are curious about visitors but keep their distance. Museum officials suspect the kits will probably relocate as guest numbers increase.
But there will still be animals to see in a visit to South Park City this season. Three young male goats from the Fairplay farm of Nancy Stimson will be on mowing duty to keep the grass and weeds cropped short. The friendly trio will reside in a pen near the Stagecoach Inn during the museum’s open hours and will enjoy visits from guests. After hours, the goats will get to work on the vegetation.
Phase 1 renovations to the Summer Brewery were completed last fall after the museum closed for the season, so this season is the first time visitors will see the full results. Work began in April 2012, with donations and grant money from the State Historical Fund.
The renovations included repair and replacement of cracked mortar on the exterior rock walls; structural repairs on the roof; foundation repair and drainage improvement; and scraping, painting and restoration work on the windows. The entry/exit on the south side of the brewery was rebuilt.
The brewery, originally owned by Austrian native Leonhard Summer, is one of the seven buildings on its original site at South Park City. It made South Park Lager Beer from the early 1870s to about 1900.
It was hoped that a new rock and mineral exhibit would be complete before opening, but it is not quite ready. The collection was a donation from Fairplay’s branch of Colorado East Bank & Trust in April 2012, when the bank’s building owner planned renovations that didn’t include the collection.
The rocks and minerals have been cleaned and some are very sparkly now, said Davis. She said most of the specimens have been identified by geologists Gary Minke and Dean Misantoni.
Minke is a member of the South Park City board of directors and a part-time resident of Indian Mountain near Como. He did the initial identification work.
Misantoni lives wherever the job takes him, said Davis, and he has worked for the London Mine near Alma. Davis said Misantoni is extremely familiar with the various specimens and has pinpointed not only the specific mineral specimens, but where most originated, either from a specific local mine, a Colorado mine or from a site outside of Colorado.
The collection includes miscellaneous items such as sea shells, sea anemones and old money. Those will be displayed in a separate case next to the rocks and minerals in the old Summer Saloon.
An addition that came near the end of last season but a sure crowd-pleaser is a donated player piano and more than 100 rolls of music. It is in the visitor center.
A change required to support operating costs and upkeep is an increase in adult admission fees of $1. The new fees are $10 per adult and $4 for children age six to 12. Admitted free are children under six and members of the museum. Memberships are $20 for individuals, $40 for a couple and $60 for families. Family memberships admit all children under 17 and their parents for the season.
Pre-arranged groups of 10 or more are given a discount, and anyone can print a discount coupon from www.southparkcity.com and bring it to the ticket window for a reduced fare. Tickets are good for the day; visitors can see part of the museum, take a lunch break away from the grounds, and return to see the rest of the exhibits.
Some staff members with help from volunteers spent the six weeks before opening day cleaning the exhibits and making repairs to get the restored 1880s town ready for the season. Dust from a windy South Park winter was swept and mopped away; wooden floors were oiled; and all bedding, curtains and clothing in the exhibits was laundered.
Davis said that was a five-day-a-week full-time job for her, with the exception of a random five days during the six weeks that were lost because of snowstorms. During those days it was too cold to work, and some buildings were inaccessible.
South Park City has “about three dozen” buildings but 43 stops on the tour because some buildings have two exhibits, Davis said. For example, the barber shop and dentist share a building, as do Simpkin’s General Store and the Masonic Lodge.
The museum is open from May 15 to October 15 with hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Memorial Day weekend; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Labor Day weekend to Oct. 15. The ticket office closes one hour before the museum closing time.
Editor’s note: The writer is a part-time seasonal employee at South Park City.