A slowdown in gambling revenue has volunteers working to fund this year’s Donkey Derby Days festival in Cripple Creek

Courtesy of Mark Green
Spectators line the streets of Cripple Creek to cheer on Donkey Derby Days racers in this undated photo.

Updated Thursday, May 11, 2023.

Despite financial concerns earlier this year, the annual running of the donkeys in Cripple Creek is on. Organizers with Donkey Derby Days said they've gotten enough donations, sponsors and volunteers to hold the August festival for its 92nd year. Cripple Creek also has a herd of rescue donkeys that serve as furry free-range ambassadors to visitors from spring until fall. They’ll be released from their winter pasture to roam the city’s streets at a date to be announced soon. The original date for the release had to be rescheduled due to inclement weather.

Pandemic-related gambling shortfalls are threatening a nearly century-old Cripple Creek tradition: Donkey Derby Days. That’s sent the caretakers of the city's wild donkey herd scrambling to keep the critical fundraiser going. 

Donkey Derby Days usually attracts tens of thousands of tourists to the former gold mining town near Pikes Peak each summer, according to organizers.

Event co-chair Annie Valades said the loss of gambling revenue means the city can’t help fund the popular summer festival, as it has in the past, to the tune of some $30,000. She said the non-profit Two Mile High Club, which cares for the herd that roams the city’s streets, met late last year.

“They were very sad and said ‘we can't do it,’” she said. “We don't have funding. We don't have volunteers. (But) that night about 15 more people than usual showed up. We shot up our hands and said ‘We're not going to let this die. We can do it on our own’.”

Courtesy of Mark Green
Pack burro racer Bill Lee of Idaho Springs joins the 2021 Donkey Derby Days Parade in Cripple Creek, dressed as an old miner. Lee has provided trained racing donkeys to the festival for more than 20 years.
Courtesy of David K. Johnson
Two of Cripple Creek's donkeys relax in front of one of the city's historic Victorian homes. The 15 donkeys in the local herd roam the city freely between mid-May and October. Tarzan (left), is the largest donkey in the herd and the alpha male, next to him is his best buddy, Coco.

So the club is looking for donations to make sure Donkey Derby Days runs again in August. The event honors the original herd of donkeys that were freed from their inhumane work in area gold mines in 1901, according to Two Mile High Club president Curt Sorenson.

“The donkeys are our living heritage of the history of Cripple Creek,” Sorenson said. “ We love them and we do everything we can to take care of them.”

The club formed in 1931 and soon after launched the first Donkey Derby Days. It’s grown ever since and now includes all kinds of entertainment like music, food vendors, a parade and of course, the Donkey Derby, a race where humans run on foot leading a trained donkey along with them.

Courtesy of Peggy Sorenson
Deckers, a donkey foal born into the Cripple Creek herd in 2017, stands with his mama, Tiffany.

Currently the herd numbers 15, according to Sorenson, and if you visit between mid-May and October, you might even find donkeys inside the casinos or banks.

“The donkeys are ambassadors of Cripple Creek,” he said. “We have places all over town where you can get approved donkey treats and feed them donkey treats that are healthy, not popcorn and pretzels and things like that.”

During the winter months, the donkeys live in a pasture and the club provides veterinary and hoof care along with water and feed, according to Sorenson. He said the furry four-footed creatures are happy to come get donkey treats from visitors at the feeding platform there too. Most of the herd consists of rescue animals now, though Sorenson said one named Deckers was born into the herd in 2017.

The club is also selling T-shirts with their favorite saying according to Sorenson, “Cripple Creek … where the asses run wild, and the donkeys are well cared for.”

Valades said they are determined to make sure Donkey Derby Days will happen this year, but they need support to pay for it and also to continue to take care of the donkeys.

Courtesy of Mark Green
Two Mile High Club volunteers help as a farrier provides hoof care to one of the Cripple Creek donkeys.

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