Arts, food, history shine at Buena Vista festival

It’s that time of year again in Buena Vista – the 38th annual Gold Rush Days.

A celebration of the town’s rich history and community, this two-day festival includes live music, historical reenactments, local artistry, more than a hundred vendors featuring handmade products, river and water events, kids games, food vendors and a beer garden; plus, the infamous toilet seat races and exciting third leg of the legendary burro races. There is something for everyone during this unforgettable weekend in the valley.

As the town’s longest-running annual event, Gold Rush Days offer a fresh take on what makes Buena Vista so inviting. The celebration kicks off on the morning of Saturday, Aug. 11, at McPhelemy Park with live music from Mountain Mantra adding to the ambience of an extensive arts and crafts fair and numerous vendors, including regional food trucks offering a wide variety of cuisine. The live music continues throughout the day with half a dozen local bands, while kids can participate in gold panning, face painting and even bubble floats on the lake. There’ll be plenty of entertainment for adults to enjoy, too.

Gold Rush Days originated to celebrate and commemorate the history behind settling such a unique area of the state, and the historical reenactments maintain not only an accurate portrayal of how the town thrived over a hundred years ago but also gives viewers a look at all aspects of life during the Wild West era. These reenactments include a cemetery tour by none other than the “Mother of Buena Vista,” Alsina Dearheimer; a Civil War recruiting station, where locals and tourists can learn to march and drill just like they did in the 1860s; Victoria’s secrets, a Victorian undergarment demonstration; a hands-on Victorian tea; and an 1861 Springfield musket demonstration with the First Colorado Company D.

The Buena Vista Heritage Museum is in charge of the historical events, which take place on the front porch of the Depot and Transportation Museum next to McPhelemy Park. Kiki Lathrop, new executive director of the heritage museum, is excited about helping present the festival instead of just attending.

“The reenactments were my favorite part of Gold Rush Days when I was younger. I found that when history wasn’t just something in a book and I could relate a historical context to living, breathing people, history became so much more fun. Having events like this is similar to the hands-on displays in our museum as a way of connecting to history and bringing it to life,” Lathrop said.

You can find Lathrop and dozens of other volunteers dedicating many hours to acquiring costumes, finding vintage props and acting to give Gold Rush Days the authenticity it is known for. This year, the museum is also adding a number of new features to highlight even more aspects of the culture of bygone days. There will be an oddities display at the heritage museum, presenting curiosities and wonders from the era; a Medicine Man Show, which was used to entice people to purchase new elixirs or balms and over the years became similar to traveling circuses; and a Czestekova sideshow, an adults-only presentation of strong man stunts and titillating adult entertainment much like what was common before the 20th century. There will even be a costume contest on Sunday in which winners of the best women’s, men’s and children’s costumes will win a Mount Princeton Hot Springs pass.

“I am really excited. I will be performing during the Medicine Man Show on Saturday evening. With these reenactments, you’re watching history come to life. I think this is as close as we can get to time travel right now,” she added.

To find out more about the anticipated weekend or view a more complete schedule of events, refer to our eight-page Ark Magazine insert.