Fairplay, Colorado

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Fairplay, Colorado
View of Fairplay and South Park looking south from State Highway 9. The historic buildings of South Park City, an open-air museum, are in the foreground.
View of Fairplay and South Park looking south from State Highway 9. The historic buildings of South Park City, an open-air museum, are in the foreground.
The Real South Park
"Where History Meets the High Country"
Location of Fairplay in Park County, Colorado.
Location of Fairplay in Park County, Colorado.
Coordinates: 39°13′28″N 105°59′53″W / 39.22444°N 105.99806°W / 39.22444; -105.99806Coordinates: 39°13′28″N 105°59′53″W / 39.22444°N 105.99806°W / 39.22444; -105.99806
CountryUnited States
IncorporatedNovember 15, 1872[2]
 • TypeStatutory Town[1]
 • MayorFrank Just[3]
 • Total1.16 sq mi (2.99 km2)
 • Land1.15 sq mi (2.97 km2)
 • Water0.01 sq mi (0.02 km2)
Elevation9,953 ft (3,034 m)
 • Total679
 • Estimate 
 • Density686.14/sq mi (264.90/km2)
Time zoneUTC−7 (MST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−6 (MDT)
ZIP code[7]
80440 & 80456, 80432 (PO Box)
Area code(s)719
FIPS code08-25610
GNIS feature ID0169534

Fairplay is the statutory town that is the county seat and the most populous municipality of Park County, Colorado, United States.[8] Fairplay is located in South Park at an elevation of 9,953 feet (3,034 m). The town is the fifth-highest incorporated place in the State of Colorado.[5] The population was 679 at the U.S. Census 2010.


A historic gold mining settlement, the town was founded in 1859 during the early days of the Pike's Peak Gold Rush. The town was named by settlers who were upset by the generous mining claims given to the earliest prospectors and promised a more equitable system for its residents.[9][10] The town of Fairplay was incorporated in 1872.[11]

Front Street, late 1800s

It is the largest community in the grassland basin of Colorado known as South Park, sitting on the west edge of the basin at the junction of U.S. Highway 285 and State Highway 9. It is on a hillside just east of the Middle Fork South Platte River, near where Highway 9 ascends the river valley northward to Alma and Hoosier Pass. It is a quiet town, and the roads surrounding it have a low volume of traffic. Although it was founded during the initial placer mining boom, the mines in the area continued to produce gold and silver ore for many decades up through the middle of the 20th century.

The town consists of modern retail businesses along the highway, as well as a historic town on the bluff above the river along Front Street. The northern extension of Front Street along the river has been preserved and has become the site of relocated historic structures as an open-air museum called South Park City, intended to recreate the early days of the Colorado Gold Rush. Most of the residences in town are located on the hillside west of US Highway 285 and east of State Highway 9, in the vicinity of the schools and Park County Courthouse. The majority of the streets in town were finally paved in 2005.

Sign along Main Street referencing South Park

The Town of Fairplay is the visual basis for the Town of South Park in the television series South Park.[12] The people in the show are influenced by Boulder, Colorado, where creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker attended college at the University of Colorado.

From 1966 to 1984, the asbestos-ridden McNamara Building in Fairplay, now demolished, had been the community hospital. It was named for Dr. Edward Bradley McNamara, a former U.S. Army doctor in World War II, who moved to Fairplay in 1962 from Michigan. He died working in the emergency room of his namesake hospital in August 1973. The hospital, built with Hill-Burton Act funds, had financial woes from the start. Before it was condemned and vacated in 2009, it had been used by several successive clinics and by Park County for office space. A previous eight-bed Park County Hospital had operated in Fairplay as early as 1892 and preceded the McNamara Hospital. Both facilities had been mainly for emergencies, obstetrics, and minor surgery, and later for nursing home care.[13]

In 1874, the Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson built in Fairplay the still-standing Sheldon Jackson Memorial Chapel, since renamed the South Park Community Church, a one-room Victorian Gothic Revival structure which was listed in 1977 on the National Register of Historic Places.[14]


According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 1.1 square miles (2.8 km2), all of it land.


Fairplay has a subarctic or subalpine climate (Koppen: Dfc) given its elevation, with short but warm summers, and long, snowy, moderately cold winters. Temperature ranges between day and night are large, due to the high elevation and dryness of the air.

Climate data for Fairplay, Colorado
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 56
Average high °F (°C) 31
Average low °F (°C) 3
Record low °F (°C) −27
Average precipitation inches (mm) 0.64
Average snowfall inches (cm) 7.9
Source: [15]


Historical population
Census Pop.
2019 (est.)787[6]15.9%
U.S. Decennial Census[16]

As of the census[17] of 2000, there were 610 people, 259 households, and 169 families residing in the town. The population density was 576.3 people per square mile (222.2/km2). There were 337 housing units at an average density of 318.4 per square mile (122.8/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 93.1% White, 1.3% African American, 1.0% Native American, 0.3% Asian, 2.8% from other races, and 1.5% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.9% of the population.

There were 259 households, out of which 31.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.0% were married couples living together, 7.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.4% were non-families. 25.9% of all households were made up of individuals, and 3.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.36 and the average family size was 2.79.

In the town, the population was spread out, with 23.9% under the age of 18, 8.5% from 18 to 24, 37.5% from 25 to 44, 24.9% from 45 to 64, and 5.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females, there were 109.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 111.9 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $50,385, and the median income for a family was $51,979. Males had a median income of $34,286 versus $26,429 for females. The per capita income for the town was $21,742. About 6.6% of families and 9.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 10.4% of those under age 18 and 5.4% of those age 65 or over.

Arts and culture[edit]

Mountain view to the west of Fairplay
Fairplay dredge, 1940s, the largest gold dredge in Colorado
Gold nuggets found near Fairplay

Burro Days[edit]

The Burro Days festival is held on the last weekend of July.[18] The event celebrates the town's mining heritage. The main feature of the festival is a 29-mile (46.7 km) burro race over rough terrain and approximately 3,000-ft (914 m) elevation gain from downtown Fairplay to the 13,000-ft (3962 m) summit of Mosquito Pass. Teams consist of one person and one burro. The race takes about five hours to complete; first prize is $1,000. Previously, the first prize included an ounce of gold. There are several other burro races in Colorado, the most notable takes place in Leadville.

The Fairplay event is the World Championship of Burro Racing, an ultra-marathon and the longest burro race in the state.[19] For many years (in the 1960s and early 1970s) the Burro race took place from Leadville to Fairplay, or vice versa, crossing over Mosquito Pass. This followed the route that Father John Lewis Dyer of the Methodist Episcopal Church used for circuit riding and for carrying mail. With time, the rivalry between the two cities ended this cooperative endeavor.

The 64th burro race, held in Fairplay on July 28–29, 2012, despite rain attracted a record crowd of more than ten thousand persons. Llama races are held on the Saturday prior to the Sunday burro run. Burro Days is the major fundraiser for area schools.[20] The 2012 winner of the 29.5-mile (47.5 km) long course is George Zack of Broomfield, Colorado, with his burro "Jack." The 2011 winner of the long course, Karen Thorpe of Durango, won the 2012 short course of 14.5 miles (23.3 km). There were fifty-seven entries in the burro contests in 2012.[21]


Fairplay is part of Colorado's Bustang network. It is on the Gunnison-Denver Outrider line.[22]

Notable people[edit]

  • John J. Hoover, convicted murderer lynched by a mob in Fairplay in 1880.
  • Sheldon Jackson, Presbyterian missionary who established what is now the South Park Community Presbyterian Church in Fairplay.
  • Frank H. Mayer, buffalo hunter, U.S. Army colonel, U.S. Marshal; lived in Fairplay and died there in 1954.

In popular culture[edit]

The town has become mildly famous in recent years as the town depicted in the South Park animated television series on Comedy Central. Although the geographical references contained in several episodes imply that Fairplay is the model for South Park, it is much smaller and more rustic than its fictional counterpart, which has a more suburban character. Co-creator Trey Parker grew up in Conifer and went to high school in Evergreen, both of which are somewhat more affluent mountain communities immediately west of Denver in Jefferson County. Co-creator Matt Stone lived in the Denver suburb of Littleton.

Because the town is a regional center of government and commerce, the term "South Park" has historically been used in the town in the naming of institutions and business, including South Park High School (the namesake of which appears in the series). The elementary school is Edith Teter Elementary and the middle school is South Park Middle School.

Although the town of South Park is based upon the real life town of Fairplay, the latter is mentioned by Gerald Broflovski in the episode "Night of the Living Homeless" and described as "4 miles away" in "Jakovasaurs", which implies that it is a separate town in the show. The county seat offices in Fairplay are seen, though not mentioned by name, in the episode "Stanley's Cup". In "T.M.I." the Pissed Off and Angry Party invade a FedEx Office location which the news reporter reports as the Fairplay FedEx.

A South Park parallel to the Burro race can be found in the "Cow Days" episode.

View of Fairplay and South Park.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Active Colorado Municipalities". State of Colorado, Department of Local Affairs. Archived from the original on 2009-12-12. Retrieved 2007-09-01.
  2. ^ "Colorado Municipal Incorporations". State of Colorado, Department of Personnel & Administration, Colorado State Archives. 2004-12-01. Retrieved 2007-09-02.
  3. ^ "Mayor and Board of Trustees". Town of Fairplay, Colorado. Retrieved June 2014. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  4. ^ "2019 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Colorado Highways: Elevation-Related Trivia Items". Matthew E. Salek. Retrieved 2007-09-14.
  6. ^ a b "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". United States Census Bureau. May 24, 2020. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  7. ^ "ZIP Code Lookup". United States Postal Service. Archived from the original (JavaScript/HTML) on November 4, 2010. Retrieved September 14, 2007.
  8. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on 2011-05-31. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  9. ^ Fossett, Frank (1880). Colorado, its gold and silver mines: farms and stock ranges, and health and pleasure resorts : tourist's guide to the Rocky Mountains. C.G. Crawford, printer and stationer. p. 123.
  10. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. pp. 123.
  11. ^ "Fairplay, Colorado". City-Data.com. Retrieved July 12, 2012.
  12. ^ "FAQ - South Park Studios". South Park Studios. Retrieved 2010-04-06.
  13. ^ Laura King Van Dusen, "Fairplay's Health Care History: In 1966, McNamara Was Modern Replacement for Old County Hospital; A Look Back into Fairplay's Healthcare History", Historic Tales from Park County: Parked in the Past (Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2013), ISBN 978-1-62619-161-7, pp. 171–6.
  14. ^ Laura King Van Dusen, "Sheldon Jackson's Fairplay Church: One of More than One Hundred in Western U.S.; Jackson Arrested, Jailed in Alaska; Contributed to Settlement of the West", Historic Tales from Park County: Parked in the Past pp. 69–77.
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Census.gov. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  17. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  18. ^ "Burro Days". Retrieved 2 June 2011.
  19. ^ "Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation". Retrieved 2 June 2011.
  20. ^ Laura King Van Dusen, "Burro Days sees record crowd well over 10,000", The Flume of Park County, Colorado, August 3, 2012
  21. ^ Laura King Van Dusen, "64th World Championship Pack Burro Race winners are George Zack, Karen Thorpe", The Flume, August 3, 2012
  22. ^ "Bustang Schedule". RideBustang. CDOT.

External links[edit]