Miners Picnic set for Saturday at Empire Mine State Park
Special to Prospector
Know & Go
What: Miners Picnic
Where: Empire State Park, 10791 Empire St., Grass Valley
When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $7 adults at the door, free admission for children 6 and under, free parking
Travel back in time for the annual Miners Picnic at the Empire State Park this Saturday.
The first Miners Picnic, held in 1895, raised money for widows and orphans of miners as well as for injured miners or those out of work. It was a time the miner families were invited to the mine to picnic and take part in contests. After the mine closed, the tradition has carried on, now with the focus of bringing attention to the mine and its vibrant history.
The Empire Mine Park Association is a volunteer organization that works to keep the mine’s history alive and raises money to fund improvements for the park. Administrative Special Event Coordinator Steve Sanchez said the summer celebration is a full day of living history and fun that kicks off with a mine rescue.
“At high noon, they shoot off a cannon and at that point a fire engine races through the gates,” he said. “They pull miners out from down below and put them on stretchers and they save the miners.”
The injured miners are covered in ketchup (instead of blood) to add to the realism.
Sanchez continued, “Mr. and Mrs. Bourne and Mr. Starr come down from the cottage because they hear the explosion and they want to know what happened,” he said. “It’s a big deal. People really love it.”
After the miners rescue reenactment, people are welcome to go into the mine, visit the blacksmith shops and tour the gardens and cottage. Visitors are encouraged to bring a blanket and a picnic to enjoy on the lawn or they can purchase a meal or ice cream.
There will be food vendors and a beer garden. Gra-Neva Model As will be on display throughout the park and there will be plenty of games for the children.
Nancy Cunningham is the clubhouse lead for the association. Her group dresses in period costume during the summer months and during “Holidays at the Empire” when Santa comes. Last year, they started supplying children’s activities for special events — Mother’s Day, The Miners Picnic and the holidays. Cunningham said everything provided is relevant to the era.
“We will have Lincoln Logs,” she said. “Lincoln Logs just celebrated their one-hundred-year anniversary, so they were invented in 1918.”
She added, “We had them for the first time at Christmas and you would be surprised how many kids put them on their Christmas list to Santa. It was so great.”
There will be pictures to color, as Crayola crayons also came to be in the early 1900s. Raggedy Ann and Andy and Teddy Bears will be available in a cuddle corner. Cunningham and her crew will have “hobby mules” and a nice backdrop to take photos in the shade.
“Hobby horses are not really ‘in’ right now and yet instinctually kids get a hold of a one and start galloping around with them,” she said. “It is just lovely.”
As a retired teacher, Cunningham added, “I know kids have their iPads and all that business, but this is really what they need, developmentally as well as as human beings.”
It’s also a way to connect that mules were a working part of the mine.
The Stamp Mill Stompers will perform on the main stage.
Sanchez said, “It’s Dixieland jazz. The lead singer plays the washboard.”
While the admission fee goes directly to the State Park General Fund, the park association will raise funds through a silent auction, raffle, cake walk and beer garden. Sanchez said there are some great items up for auction.
“We have weekend stays at Gold Miners Inn, Courtyard Suites in Grass Valley and the Hard Rock Hotel in Reno,” he said. “We’ll have geodes and 400-year-old fossils to bid on and some gold panning starter kits that could include real gold.”
In addition, donated gold pieces will be raffled off.
Funds raised pay for park improvements. Cunningham said she has been advocating for repairs to the clubhouse.
“The roof was leaking onto artifacts in the club house, so I started going to board meetings to make sure it got fixed,” she said.
“We pay to preserve the park,” Sanchez concurred. “At our last board meeting we passed $100,000 to repair the roof in the clubhouse because it has been leaking really bad.”
Other projects funded include the purchase of period costumes, paved walkways and a new roof for the Empire Cottage, but there are many more projects in the works.
Sanchez said 900 to 1,000 people attend the Miners Picnic each year and it would not happen without the substantial number of folks who volunteer, for whom he is grateful. You can get involved with donations of time or money by going to empiremine.org or by simply visiting the Empire Mine State Park.
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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