When someone mentions Manitou Springs, restaurants and bars aside, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Though the "Keep Manitou Weird" slogan lives on, it might be the Emma Crawford Coffin Races, Craft Lager Beer Fest or Carnivale.
If you're into running, you'd say the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon.
In this new century, Manitou has become better known for its annual events — those escapes from our everyday lives, chances to share in festivals, parades and competitions that don't happen anywhere else. You know, like the Great Fruitcake Toss, with an interesting rule change for the 2013 event coming up on Jan. 12: "You may use any type of mechanical or electric compressor to charge your pneumatic device, EXCEPT GASOLINE POWERED."
Yes, Manitou takes its events seriously. But that doesn't mean all of them are equal, which has created some frayed feelings. For years, the city subsidized many events — waiving or reducing fees, and providing city police services free of charge. But in tougher times, that became a problem.
"When I came on the Council in 2009, my first meeting was on the budget," Mayor Pro-Tem Matt Carpenter recalls. "We were cutting employee benefits, yet we had waived $18,000 in fees."
That eventually led to a new policy of charging fees and billing for city services such as traffic control, barricades and police working extra hours. Exceptions no longer come as easily. Also, if the city already gives money to an organization such as Manitou's Chamber of Commerce, now known as iManitou, there is no waiver.
That's where the differing opinions come in. Recently a letter circulated from iManitou, saying the Coffin Races need outside support because the bill from the city has risen from about $1,200 two years ago to $4,600 in 2012.
Carpenter says organizers might look first at their decreasing sponsorships and other revenue.
"I suggested that they begin charging entry fees this year, which they did [to $50 a team]," Carpenter said, "and they still filled their quota of entries. If they would just make that $100 a team, or $20 a person, they wouldn't have to worry about anything. I don't see any problem with charging the participants. And a number of teams are sponsored, so that could be just part of the deal."
Manitou Mayor Marc Snyder still believes in helping some events, but admits he's "in the minority." He prefers to make exceptions for such privately run, shoestring-budget events as the Carnivale parade and also the best first-time ideas trying to get off the ground.
"We know how many thousands of people Carnivale brings to Manitou on a Saturday in the winter [Feb. 9 in 2013]," Snyder says. "Those people spend money and it helps the town's economy during a slow time, so why not give them a break?"
Marcy Morrison, former mayor and now iManitou interim CEO, has been on both sides. On Manitou's Council, she felt more events should pay their way. Now, from iManitou's perspective, "I see it in a different light ... but it's hard to come to some kind of middle ground. For a little town like us, every event takes a lot of work and coordination."
If there's a crusader in all this, it has to be Carpenter, also the driving force (and 18-time winner) of the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon. Carpenter has helped build that race organization to where it pays all of its fees and bills every year — then goes the extra mile, like last year, giving $4,000 more to Manitou's fire department and the Iron Mountain open-space effort.
Of course, not every event has that kind of global reputation, either.
"I think all of Manitou's events are special, but Marcy's the one who convinced me that they all should pay their way," Carpenter says. "I just think events should be self-sustainable."
So we head into 2013 with the usual attractions filling Manitou's calendar, from the Great Fruitcake Toss through the beer, wine and arts/crafts festivals to the Coffin Races, and don't forget the ice cream social, pancake breakfast or Carnivale's gumbo cookoff.
You need to know, however, none of them will make anybody rich.
Fulfilled, yes. Wealthy, no.