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Georgetown bustled with an assortment of activities during Mining and Railroad Days last weekend, with by far the most unusual and historic highlight being the annual pack burro race. “The town …
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Georgetown bustled with an assortment of activities during Mining and Railroad Days last weekend, with by far the most unusual and historic highlight being the annual pack burro race.
“The town would not be here if it was not for the burros,” said Joan Eaton, the event coordinator.
More than 20 burro racers from around Colorado participated in the course, which sent the burro-racer teams on an 8-mile trek from Georgetown to Empire and back on an old mining trail over Union Pass.
One contestant called it “a beginner course” designed to lure new people into the sport.
“This little race will attract people to the town and encourage amateurs to get involved,” said Bill Lee, a race organizer. Lee, a longtime Idaho Springs resident, has been involved in burro races for more than 30 years.
Bringing tourists to Georgetown is what the festival, now in its third year, is all about, Eaton said.
The burro races have the feel of the area’s gold-mining history and definitely add some excitement. Basically, a burro must carry a pack with pick, shovel and pan weighing 33 pounds. The human half of the team pulls the burro along the course but never rides it.
As burro racer Karen Thorpe explained, “If you want to carry your burro, that’s fine, but you cannot ride it.”
Most of the handlers are runners, because burro racing demands a lot of stamina.
Pack burro races started in 1949 in Fairplay. It is said to be the only sport indigenous to Colorado.
Lee, a storyteller, became interested in burros because he needed a way to transport his equipment to presentations all over the state. Lee calls himself a seasoned racer; he expects to keep racing until his knees give out.
Curtis Imire, another seasoned racer from Buena Vista, has been involved in the sport for 38 years. He was lured to burro racing because he loved the idea of an equine sport where the jockey works as hard as the animal.
Imire has what are called mammoth donkeys, which are the size of large horses.
Imire proposed a burro version of the Triple Crown more than 25 years ago. All three races take place in Colorado, with the first, called the World Championship, taking place in Fairplay the last weekend in July. That race is a grueling 29 miles with a 3,000-foot rise in elevation over Mesquito Pass and back.
The other two races are in Buena Vista and Leadville and are 11 miles and 22 miles, respectively. The Triple Crown is vital in bolstering the economies of the towns.
In the end, the winner of the Georgetown event was Thorpe with her burro, Chevy Champion. This was the first race for Champion, and they completed the course in one hour and 34 minutes, with Barbara Dolan and her burro Dakota less than two seconds behind. Dakota balked at the red tape at the finish line.
Jim Vincent came in third with his burro, Crazy Horse.
All three racers received cash prices, and all the contestants received gift packages from Georgetown merchants.
To learn more about Georgetown events this summer, visit www.visitgeorgetowncolorado.com, and check out the Summer Guide in this week’s Clear Creek Courant.
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