Though small in size, Tiny Town is a survivor. The historic amusement park with petite, hand-built buildings tucked into the mountains just outside of Denver has entertained families for over 100 years, through a bumpy ride of tragedies and natural disasters. But it could be the coronavirus that causes this literal small town to become a ghost town for good.
"Every year, the park makes enough so I can open the next year," says park manager Elvira Nedoma, who started a GoFundMe page to save it. "But this year, nothing is coming in."
Tiny Town is usually open May through September. It allows families an affordable getaway to roam a pathway of dollhouse-like structures that stand about four feet tall. All summer long, children can be heard laughing and screaming with excitement as they sit in the buildings and poke their heads out the windows.
Some take a train ride around the park. Also kid-sized, the Tiny Town Railroad is mostly steam engines with eight train cars and two cabooses. Families can picnic on benches that run along a peaceful creek, and there's a playground where kids can burn off even more energy.
Entry is priced low with families in mind: $5 for adults, $3 for children and $2 for train rides. "We've kept the place non-commercial, says Nedoma, "You can come and play, ride the trains, bring in food and have a picnic. You can spend all day here. You can't go anywhere for that price and have as much fun as you do at Tiny Town."
But now with the pandemic, Tiny Town is quiet, since it's unable to open. "All of my train engineers are volunteers over the age of 65. They didn't want to come in to work because they didn't want to get sick. So it started there," says Nedoma, who herself is age seventy. "I don't want anything to do with this virus, not for my staff or the people who come here."
LIMITED CAPACITY WON'T WORK
The Health Department said she could open with a limited capacity of 125 visitors, but with the place being so hands-on, Nedoma says there isn't a way she can make it safe or make the money she needs to operate.
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"With our entry prices, I would go in the hole. I would have to hire people to sanitize everything and buy the supplies. I don't have a lot of money to begin with. The economics don't make sense."
Nedoma says that what saddens her most about remaining closed is missing the smiles it brings to children. She's been with the park for twenty years.
"It's so much fun. I can't stop!" she says. Starting as a volunteer, she became the park's first female train engineer and eventually took over as park manager. She oversees everything with what she calls her "detail-oriented" approach that goes all year long. "The park is seasonal, but we work all winter, fixing the buildings and maintaining the trains."
TINY TOWN HISTORY
Nedoma loves Tiny Town so much she wrote a book about it, If These Tracks Could Talk. It's a story that spans a century of Colorado history and generations of families who spent time there and dedicated themselves to keeping it going. Tiny Town was founded in 1915 when businessman George Turner started building playhouses for his young daughter.
The timeline then goes something like this:
-In 1920, it opened to the public as a roadside attraction called Turnerville, with 125 buildings that included a grocery store, a barbershop, a hotel, a school and a church.
-Turner sold the property in 1927, and it became Tiny Town. The property then faced a series of natural disasters: A flood in 1929 and a fire in 1935 that destroyed some of the principal buildings but spared the miniature structures.
-Authorities rerouted Highway 285 in 1948, taking traffic away from Tiny Town. It closed in 1966 and suffered extensive damage from another flood in 1969.
-In 1972, Lyle Fulkerson, a model train buff, took over and began a massive restoration with help from his family. Fate dealt the park another blow when, in 1977, Fulkerson died in an accident on his way to Tiny Town.
-The park closed in 1978 and fell into disrepair.In 1980, a group of families reopened the town and brought in pony rides and puppet shows. It closed again in 1983.
-In the late 1980s, a real estate group took over to renovate the buildings, then reopened Tiny Town and established the Tiny Town Foundation. The Foundation eventually fell apart, but Tiny Town continued operations. Nedoma took over as park manager in 2000.
Today the park includes 150 miniature buildings, many of which are historical re-creations such as the Molly Brown House and the Central City Opera House. The original hundred-year-old structures built by George Turner sit high up on the hill to protect them from potential damage
STRUGGLING TO SURVIVE
Each time the park has been forced to close, it's fallen into a state of disrepair that has taken considerable time and effort to revive. Nedoma is determined not to let that happen this time by keeping the lights on and making repairs while waiting for the pandemic to subside — which, unfortunately, is taking longer than expected. She decided to start a GoFundMe page when she realized the park couldn't open this year.
So how much money does it take to run a tiny amusement park?
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"I haven't been paid since last year, so it's not going to me!" Nedoma says. "It's going into fixing things up, paying the bills and things like inspections, property tax and insurance, all of which runs in the tens of thousands of dollars."
To help, people can donate on the GoFundMe page. They can also drop off building materials such as paint or wood. Her book is also available for $20 by calling the park.
"I'm hoping I can get a little help from the public for all the joy it brought their family," says Nedoma. "If everybody who's come to the park just gave five dollars, we'd be fine."
Tiny Town & Railroad is located at 6249 South Turkey Creek Road, Morrison. For more information, call 303-697-6829.