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South Park City (Fairplay, Colorado)

South Park City, not just a cartoon town

South Park City, Fairplay, Colorado

South Park City museum in Fairplay, Colorado. Photo by H.M. Kerr-Schlaefer, all right reserved.

Just an hour and 42 minutes southwest of Denver, Colorado, is an historic town that’s become synonymous with a bunch of crude and politically incorrect cartoon characters named Cartman, Kyle, Stan, and Kenny.

Want some insider info? The creators of this cartoon grew up right down the street from my husband in Littleton, Colorado.

South Park is a region in Colorado, and South Park City is a museum located in Fairplay, Colorado, population approximately 600.

Fairplay was most likely the inspiration for Parker and Stone’s fiction town of South Park. Fairplay is located just 30 minutes south of the popular ski town of Breckenridge, and hosts one of my favorite festivals in the state, Burro Days, and it’s also home to South Park City, one of my favorite museums. The museum is a collection of over 40 historic buildings and 60,000 artifacts that have been moved from all over the area to be placed in the fictional 1888 mining town of South Park City.

On my first visit to South Park City, about five years ago, a friend and I spent four hours touring the buildings. On that day there were actors in period costumes scattered around the grounds playing different roles – the hostess of a local boarding house, a bartender at the town tavern, a blacksmith working in his shop.

South Park City - see how the people in an 1888 Colorado mining town would have lived.

See how the people in an 1888 Colorado mining town would have lived. Photo by H.M. Kerr-Schlaefer, all rights reserved.

South Park City - inside the mercantile.

Find out what would have been for sale at the local mercantile. Photo by H.M. Kerr-Schlaefer, all rights reserved.

From a typical frontier home decorated with authentic furnishings to a 1800s dental office filled with terrifying instruments, South Park City is a realistic and comprehensive look into the history of the Rocky Mountains. Each building has a history and story to tell.

What I love so much about South Park City is that it reminds us of not only how different we are from the people of the past, but also how much we are the same. This struck home last summer when I toured the museum again during Burros Days 2010. My husband, Ryan, had never been to the museum, so we strolled through together, making the discovery that both of us could have found work in this town. As a woodworker Ryan has plenty of skills that would have been useful in a frontier town, and as a writer, I could have worked at the local newspaper (if only I were a man).

South Park City carpenter shop.

South Park City – Ryan would have worked here. Photo by H.M. Kerr-Schlaefer, all rights reserved.

South Park City newspaper office.

South Park City – I would have worked here. Photo by Ryan Schlaefer, all rights reserved.

Inside the tavern, folks from the museum organization were selling bottles of sarsaparilla, and Ryan had to have one. We discussed a little of the history of the place with the sarsaparilla peddlers, and learned that the artwork on the tavern wall, a nude, probably would have caused quite scandal in 1888.

South Park City is located in downtown Fairplay at the end of Front Street. It is open May 14 through October 16. I recommend it for all ages. Admission is very affordable with adults at $8 and children, 6 to 12 years of age, just $4. Children under 6 are free. Give yourself a good two hours to tour the town, and be sure to stop in the gift shop before leaving. There are lots of photo opts so be sure to pack a camera. Visit the museum online at www.southparkcity.org. The best time to visit South Park City is during Living History Days, August 13-14, 2011. Read my review of Fairplay’s Burro Days here.

HeidiTown Tips on Fairplay, Colorado:

Where to stay: I like the Hand Hotel Bed & Breakfast. Rooms are named after the types of people who used to call this area home and are decorated accordingly. Rates range from $64 to $99/night, and include a free continental breakfast. If you can handle the ghosts (I hear every room is haunted) I recommend staying at the Hand Hotel. Website: www.handhotel.com

Where to eat: It’s worth the wait to snag a table on the outside patio at Millonzi’s Delicatessen & Restaurant. The views are breathtaking.

Where to drink: The Fairplay Hotel has one of my all-time favorite bars. The dark wood and a roaring fire in the fireplace during the winter create an authentic western feel.

Where to hike or snowshoe: Hiking and snow shoeing options abound in this area. In the winter I recommend heading up to the Fairplay Nordic Center where entry fees are just $10 for adults and $5 for children. For summer hiking I like heading into the Lost Creek Wilderness area, the least visited wilderness area in Colorado. We often hike in this area without seeing another soul.

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