Nevada City Children’s Festival |

Nevada City Children’s Festival

Fairies pose for a picture at a previous Children's Festival.
Photo courtesy of Roseanne Burk |

The whimsical splendor of the Children’s Festival will overtake Pioneer Park once more this year.

The festival will take place during two sessions, from 9 a.m. to noon and 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, at Pioneer Park at a cost of $3 per person per session.

Families can bring their children and explore the many activities, from costume-making and fencing classes to an appearance by fairies, Mother Goose and Queen Elizabeth.

The festival also includes arts and crafts tables, face painting, strolling minstrels, medieval fencing with post-performance classes and a fire-breathing mechanical dragon named Claude.

Pepper the witch, who drives each year from Santa Barbara, will also make her annual appearance.

“The people involved in it are very into it, very dedicated to it, and the kids just love it,” said 10-year volunteer Roseanne Burke.

Children can arrive in costume or make their own costumes, crowns, swords and jewelry; each child receives an SPD grocery bag to put things in and a map of the different activities.

This year will also feature a Renaissance photo cutout in which children can have their face atop a painted character’s body.

“This is one of the most special events that happens for children in California because it’s a Renaissance fair designed just for children,” said Children’s Festival Director Karen Nelson.

“It’s just this day of inventiveness and imagination. It’s a rare thing.”

One of the tenets of the festival is interactive play without technology.

“They’re just really engaged in a way that is so unique in this day and age,” said Burke.

The festival was founded in 1971 by Pat Cobler and Ilse Barnhart, two women with a love for children, after they attended a similar festival in Oregon and wanted to bring the idea to Nevada County.

The festival was discontinued in 1989 and revived in 2003 as a memorial tribute to Barnhart, where it has remained a tradition for many Nevada County residents who attended as children and brought their children and grandchildren.

“I attended as a child and again as an adult and brought my kids, who help me now that I’m running the event,” Nelson said.

“My daughter comes and works it and my mother works it, so it’s a multigenerational thing where we’re all enjoying the event together.”

The festival is organized and executed by more than 200 volunteers, Burke said, with a ballooning attendance of about 2,000 each year.

“Every year it’s (been) bigger and more elaborate,” Burke said.

“There’s just an endless stream of activities for kids to be engaged in.”

For more information, contact Karen Nelson at or visit

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email or call 530-477-4230.

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