Barbara Lawlor, Rollinsville. A cold wind blew over the Gilpin County fairgrounds on Saturday afternoon, August 20, 2016. People pulled on their sweatshirts and jackets, frowned, and looked accusingly at the sky. The weather had been Colorado perfect until the cloud cover blocked the sunshine.
The potential storm rumbled away and the heat pushed back over the arena, the vendors, the rides, the various competitions and hundreds of people who didn’t want summer to end.
Everything went as well as the Gilpin County Fair organizers hoped it would. It was all it could be.
Fair Coordinator Heather Pearce said there were more people and more events than usual. Although this is Heather’s first year being in charge of this huge annual event, she has had two years of experience assisting in the organization.
“I have a lot to learn, but everyone I’ve talked to said the fair was great. We had 80 vendors this year and new rides and contests.”
The Quad Trampoline, which has always been a favorite ride, sending bodies flying into the air, was traded this year for three other activities:
The Water Walk, the Giant Slide and the Rock Wall. Heather said these events attracted people of all ages.
Walking on water was one of the major attractions. Held in the community center pool area, the novel activity had a constant line of people wanting to climb into a bubble and try to navigate it over the kids’ pool, wearing their regular street clothes.
Adults, under 5′ 5″ were even allowed to give it a try, although they had a more difficult challenge to maintain their center of gravity. The large balloons are made of some heavy-duty, transparent inflatable material. While deflated, the water walker stands inside as the attendant fills the bubble with air until it is unsinkable. The opening flaps are Velcroed shut, the rider locked inside like a bug trapped in amber, dry and buoyant.
It looks kind of easy, like all you have to do is walk and keep your balance once you step into the pool; but the bubble begins to roll forward and soon the feet can’t keep up. The flexible children soon learned how to roll, to somersault, to slither along the slippery inside slopes. Every time they got hauled back to the deck they would pop back into the line, challenging themselves to go faster, stay upright the next time.
For two days, the line was non-stop.
On Saturday, a large crowd filled the arena stands for the main event, the bull riding, bronc busting action packed rodeo sponsored by the Mardi Gras Casino. Cowboys from all over Colorado and nearby states showed up to be thrown around, bucked off, jerked and yanked and stepped on, hoping to stay put for eight seconds. The big winner of the day was bull rider Travis Briscoe who hung in there for nine seconds and won the first place purse of $1,836.
During the riding events, the rodeo clowns kept up a constant chatter, entertaining the crowd with bad jokes, prat falls and good-natured banter. The bull and bronc fighters take as much risk as the riders, putting themselves in between the critters and the cowboys, risking their bones to give the vulnerable riders a chance to get out of harm’s way. The pickup riders also have the difficult job of helping the contestants get off a bull or bronc after the eight second buzzer and that feat sometimes entails galloping around the arena after a bucking, obstinate animal who doesn’t want to get lassoed.
The bulls and the broncs won most of the rounds, hurling the cowboys off their backs right out of the gate, but the spectators loved every minute of it as they enjoyed their loaded fries, smoked turkey legs, craft beer, funnel cakes and Navajo tacos. A new vendor, the Palisades Peaches, was also popular, selling flats of the juicy fruit from the Western Slope.
Along with the bulls and broncos, the sheep got into the act: Mutton Busting is a crowd favorite as kids as young as three years old are plopped onto the back of a sheared sheep and sent out of the chute. The children grab onto the wool as tight as they can, hug the sheep’s neck as hard as they can and hold their breath as long as the sheep careens into the middle of the arena. Sometimes the critters stop, sometimes they fall over, sometimes they run so fast that grown men have a hard time catching them and rescuing the youngster still clinging to the panicked lamb.
All the mutton busters were winners and all received a ribbon for their courage.
One of the new attractions was the BMX course that was created this summer. The ribbon cutting ceremony took place on Saturday morning and the course is officially open to the community. Its hills and dips and ramps present a fun challenge to riders of all ages.
The 4H Dog Agility Contest is an annual favorite, featuring adorable, agile, clumsy, obedient, confused, and some very talented, four-footed athletes who do their best to please their owners, their guardians. They go through the Tunnel of Doom, leap over fences, do tricks for treats and pose for applause and photos.
Carrying around an impressive pair of pointed bones, the long-horned steer, Blizzard, performed a pole bending demonstration, a balancing trick and some dramatic acting, his large, bulky body moving with admirable grace and flexibility.
Another new event, the ATV Rodeo Sport and Utility competition, brought local four wheeling adventurers onto the arena to show off their driving skills. This is an event that is sure to grow every year as mountain kids learn to negotiate our twisty turny trails.
Inside the exhibition hall, two young camels stole the show this year, with their humped backs and large feet, knobby knees and flapping lips, they begged successfully for treats from the kids. They have large, wise, gentle eyes and softer skin than one would expect and even the youngest of the children liked the feel of their lips licking small pellets from their small hands. Their owner said the camels have personalities similar to that of donkeys; intelligent but stubborn.
Many non-profit agencies set up booths that provided information about their services and how to help them help the community. They gave away EKG tests on the spot and they gave away key chain flashlights, pens, Tootsie Rolls and identity cards. Groups raised money for school projects and overseas trips.
In the gym, artist and gourmands set up their booths, hoping to sell some inventory before they begin working on their holiday sales. Good deals abounded as jewelry and crafts, sauces and books dazzled the buyers’ senses.
In the talent tent, Gwyneth Bass of Nederland gave a first place winning Karaoke performance,
On Sunday, the Gilpin Gourmet baking, preserving and pickling awards were presented and the winners held up their delicious breads, candies, desserts, jams and jellies as the auctioneers went for the highest bids. Barbara Hardt and her children, Allison and Hayden, each won a ribbon, with Hayden winning the Best of Show for his wild raspberry jelly picked in his own backyard.
David Nemec won Best of Show for his home-brewed beer, the Belgian Double, and Ruby Gustafson was Best of Show for her dessert. It was the first time that local Colorado brewers were at the fair and the first time cider was on the drink menu. It was a hit and was sold out by the end of Saturday.
On Saturday, at 5 p.m. in past years, the Timberline Fire Protection District firefighters usually give a demonstration of how they put out a structure fire, using a real wooden building with real flames. This year, because of a fire ban, they decided to do something different, but it was just as hot.
Members of the TFPD dressed up in the various gear that is worn for the emergency situations they respond to. Wildland fire, bunker gear for structure fires, water rescue, ice rescue, hazmat cleanup and medical calls. It was an impressive display of the disciplines that are included in the term “firefighter”.
Then the audience got another show that took them by surprise. The rookies, the younger firefighters on the team gave a demonstration of what arduous training can do for one’s body. The Chippendales, the Hottest Male Review Show in Gilpin County, stepped out in front of the audience and waved flimsy scarves until the Geriatrics joined them and soon people were stuffing dollar bills into the geezer’s suspenders.
It was hilarious. Most of all it was a reminder that firefighters also have a light-hearted side, the understanding that people have to laugh at themselves every now and then. It keeps the serious side stronger.
The traditional hot dog/ bonfire get together went on as usual, without the bonfire, because of the fire ban that is in place. The music went on as long as the light did.
No clouds appeared in the sky on Sunday and the days activities went on smooth as vanilla ice cream.
It was a fine fair.
Gilpin County dressed up in its finest array and gave mountain residents an end of summer, back to school heck of a good time.