Mancos will be taking part in a proud Colorado tradition at its upcoming Grand Summer Nights event – a Burrofest.
The July 20 festival will feature a wide range of burro-centric activities, including burro racing, a burro packing demonstration, and burro modeling. Local artist Veryl Goodnight, one of the event’s organizers, pointed to the example set by the three Colorado towns that host the burro racing “Triple Crown”: Fairplay, Leadville and Buena Vista.
“Mancos has all of the same elements to offer burro racers as do the three Triple Crown towns – a rich mining history and outstanding Forest Service roads and trails in the La Platas,” Goodnight said. “I have long thought that burro racing would be a wonderful fit for Mancos.”
This is the first year of the Burrofest, and it will take place as part of the Grand Summer Nights series hosted by the Mancos Creative District.
Because of their sure footing and carrying capacity, burros have a long history in Colorado.
“Burros have played a huge role in the history of our state as the most reliable and often only pack animal that could negotiate narrow steep trails to the silver and gold mines,” Goodnight said. “These mines are often at elevations over 10,000 feet.”
Back in the 19th century, burros were used to carry mining tools and supplies through the Rocky Mountains, led by miners on foot, according to the Western Pack Burro Association. The origins of burro racing are somewhat debated, according to the association: One legend claims that two miners found gold in the same spot and raced each other – burros in tow – back to town to stake a claim, while another alleges the sport was started by drunken miners in a Leadville bar.
In 2012, burro pack racing was designated by the Colorado General Assembly as a summer heritage sport in the state, according to the WPBA.
The Triple Crown takes place over three days and includes three courses over historic mountain passes near Fairplay, Leadville and Buena Vista. The first leg will kick off July 28 in Fairplay.
“The burros range from miniature to mammoths and so do their human partners,” Goodnight said. “Thousands of visitors pack these towns each year to witness the often-funny events that take place during the race.”
Goodnight hopes to combine burros with the arts in this year’s first Burrofest venture. The fest will kick off at 4 p.m. with a mini burro race of less than one mile – just a loop around Boyle Park. But participants will have to wind through some trees at the park, along with pausing at the porch of the historic jailhouse to be photographed by Paul Boyer.
Spectators are invited to watch the race from within the park itself. After an award ceremony, burros will head over to the Grand Avenue galleries to serve as live models for artists there – including Veryl Goodnight, Brad Goodell, Miki Harder, Lille Diane, and Marilyn Kroeker.
Also post-race, David Daney, author of “Packing with Burros,” will demonstrate proper burro packing and rigging in the Ballantine lot next the Mancos Common Press.
Daney said he began bringing burros with him on outdoors expeditions after a two-week backpacking trip in Wyoming grew tiresome.
“That turns out to be an awful lot of food, especially if you’re interested in fishing like I am,” Daney said.
“At the end of that, my wife, Sue, said something had to change.”
So they got their first burro. “Life has been better ever since,” he said.
However, he hardly sees any other burros on the trail, and he felt that llamas received all the attention as a superior pack animal. So he decided to write a book on burro packing.
His packing technique involves panniers, cloth bags on either side of the burro’s neck that carry cardboard boxes. At the Mancos Burrofest, he plans to show attendees how to properly weigh and balance the panniers, with his trusty burro, Gaspard, on hand for demonstrations.
Horses have a prominent withers section, he said, which helps keep the saddle balanced.
“Well, burros have almost no withers,” he said. “If you look at the cross-section of the burro, it’s almost round. And so what that means is that it’s very easy for your pack saddle and your whole load to suddenly go upside down on the burro.”
He hopes the Mancos event will promote burros as a pack animal.
“The burro is a very much under-appreciated beast, but a wonderful animal,” Daney said. “And it turns out, a wonderful pack animal. But they’re too often treated pretty cruelly by people.”
The Burrofest will officially take place from 4 to 8 p.m. July 20.
Also at the event, Kilgore American Indian Art will serve Navajo fry bread alongside music provided by Lyn Lewis, the Mancos Common Press will host its grand re-opening, and Fenceline Cider will offer food and drink throughout the evening, with multi-instrumentalist Awna Teixeira playing music at the cidery beginning at 7 p.m.