Miners Picnic celebrates 120 years of gold, grit, glory at Empire Mine State Park | TheUnion.com

Miners Picnic celebrates 120 years of gold, grit, glory at Empire Mine State Park

Docents in period costumes with picnic baskets rehearse for the 120th Miners Picnic at Empire Mine State Park on Aug. 29.
Submitted by Richard Bannister |


What: 120th Miners Picnic

When: Aug. 29

Times: Special Activities from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Location: Empire Mine State Historic Park, 10791 E. Empire St., Grass Valley

Cost: $7 for adults 17 & over, $3 ages 6 to 16, FREE admission for children under 6

Info: Visitors Center, 530-273-8522, http://www.empiremine.org

The 120th annual Miners Picnic takes place this month to celebrate the glory, traditions and excitement of the Gold Rush era.

The picnic takes place Aug. 29 at Empire Mine State Historic Park, 10791 E. Empire St. Grass Valley. Park hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. — with special activities from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Ticket prices are $7 for adults, $3 for ages 6 to 16, and free admission for children under 6.

For further information, call (530) 273-8522 or visit http://www.empiremine.org.

“A picnic, a tradition and tons of fun since 1895 — that’s an accurate way to describe the Miners Picnic,” said event Chair Jack Laird. “Everyone is invited to be part of the festivities as we celebrate its 120th anniversary.”

In the early days, miners picnics raised money for miners’ widows and children, as well as for injured and out-of-work miners.

“Today,” Laird said, “it’s a lively way to explore Empire Mine’s golden history, and enjoy a unique experience.

“Visitors can pan for gold, search for gold and even win gold jewelry in our raffle,” he added. “Children can play games, including the Search for the Gold Challenge. There’s a tasty old-fashioned cakewalk, as well as outstanding local entertainment in the mineyard and by the 1905 clubhouse.“

At noon, there’s a mine-rescue reenactment — with vintage cars and an old fire engine racing to the scene.

The blacksmith shop will be open, and the smithies’ tales of the “old days” are full of facts.

Nearby, visitors can enjoy donkeys large and small — some packed to go prospecting, and some in old-time costumes.

The Stamp Mill Stompers will play that “new-fangled” Dixieland jazz, and Banjo Man, Richard Caudle, will play music in the mineyard.

At 1 p.m., local band Rush Creek will perform on the stage. Some of the songs they’ll sing date back to 1895 — the year of the very first Miners Picnic.

Always a favorite with the children, Ray Ray the Clown will make balloon sculptures, while magician Peter Franchino will have visitors asking, “How did he do that?”

In picturesque Empire Cottage, designed by famed San Francisco architect Willis Polk in the late 1800s, docents in period costumes will recall the glory days, when Empire Mine ranked as one of the largest, oldest and most profitable hard-rock gold mines in North America.

Influential historic characters, portrayed by docents in period costumes, bring history to life.

Visitors may meet mine owners William Bourn Jr. and his wife Agnes, as well as George Starr and his wife Libby.

Starr was a popular, hardworking and innovative superintendant, who played a key role in Empire’s success.

“His vision contributed to our community’s prosperity,” Laird said.

“While guests are welcome to bring their own picnic lunches,” he added, “we’ll have plenty of tempting, tasty foods and beverages for sale. To add to the authenticity, Cornish pasties, a favorite miner’s meal, will be available for purchase.”

In addition, there will be barbecue sandwiches, hot dogs, coffee, tea, soft drinks, sweets, kettle corn — and plenty of Lazy Dog ice cream.”

Tables and chairs will be set up near the food vendors. However, visitors are encouraged to bring their own blankets and chairs, and picnic on the grounds.

Each year, Empire Mine State Historic Park welcomes around 100,000 visitors from all over the world.

“Gold fever still burns bright here,” said Laird, “and the 120th Miners Picnic provides a special opportunity to discover our colorful past in a way that appeals to young people and people of all ages – and this year we’re pulling out all the stops to make it more entertaining, more action-packed, and more memorable than ever.”

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