Sunday profile: Make your Mountain Fair ‘peace’ with Michael Gorman and Co.
Western Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley has a way of drawing its native sons and daughters back home, eventually.
Michael Gorman, a 2004 Glenwood Springs High School graduate went off to college at CSU in Fort Collins and bounced around to a few different places after that.
But the beckoning call that so many Valley dwellers hear — the mountains, the rivers, the four distinct seasons and all they have to offer — was what brought Gorman back in his mid-20s.
“It does pull you back in,” said Gorman, now 33, recently married to his wife, Elissa, and settled in Carbondale.
“It’s such an incredible place … you can go search the world for this kind of life, and it still keeps bringing you back here.”
A strong sense of community — and a not-so-little small-town festival known as Mountain Fair — also played a big part in convincing Gorman to stay put.
Growing up in Glenwood Springs, Gorman said he didn’t spend much time in Carbondale until after he returned home from college.
He remembers meeting Mountain Fair and Carbondale Arts Director Amy Kimberly on a Roaring Fork River float one evening.
“I was kind of new to town, and she was looking for more fair volunteers,” Gorman said. “Amy was super-supportive of gathering up people like me and my group of friends as this new, young crowd.
Gorman signed up for a shift working one of the four gateways into Sopris Park during Mountain Fair as part of what’s known as the Peace Patrol.
He continued doing random shifts every year, and when the Peace Patrol supervisor position came open, Gorman was given the job.
KEEPING THE VIBE
More than 300 volunteers step up to run Mountain Fair every last weekend of July.
Those volunteers range in age from 8 to 80-plus, according to Kimberly. They do everything from keeping the peace as part of the Peace Patrol, to collecting and diverting waste for recycling and composting as part of the Green Team, to holding down the beer garden, the information, raffle and T-shirt booths, directing traffic and helping out backstage.
Peace Patrol is a volunteer team that is in charge of handling security all throughout the park and along its perimeter, where vehicle traffic and parking is limited to vendors and performers only.
Its jobs range from handing out fair programs at the gates and making sure no alcohol comes in or leaves the park, in accordance with the town’s special events liquor license, to just making sure everyone’s doing OK and having a good time.
“We’re primarily in charge of the four entrances and exits, and just keeping the peace and keeping the fair vibe at a good level,” Gorman explained.
When its super hot, which is often the case during Mountain Fair, Peace Patrollers will walk around with spray bottles to help keep people cool. They also have radio communication with each other in case there’s a lost child, someone having a problem or maybe a car parked in the wrong spot.
“We just try to be a friendly enforcement of the guidelines and rules of the town and the park,” he said. “The police are always close by, too, and they do a great job.”
But the Peace Patrol acts as more of the front line to keep an eye on things before involving the police.
Without the volunteer patrol, Mountain Fair would likely have to pay for private security. And, it’s people like Michael Gorman who make it possible, Kimberly said.
“He’s the perfect example of someone who started coming to the fair at an early age, even though his whole family did not always attend,” said Kimberly, who has been directing the fair for 16 years.
“Michael, his brother James and many of Michael’s friends are the very people who will be taking over the fair, because they understand the magic that makes the fair what it is,” she said. “They inspire us, and vice versa.”
Gorman grew up in Glenwood Springs, one of four children raised by Don and Leslie Gorman. His dad worked at the Basalt Post Office for many years.
And, just as he did, his siblings, brother James and sisters Emily and Sarah, all eventually migrated back to the Roaring Fork Valley.
“It’s home, and it’s also just the most beautiful place in the world,” Gorman said. “And it’s a great community that shows up for each other, and that comes together to put on an event like this.”
Gorman studied natural resources at CSU, and now works for Eco-Flight, a public lands and conservation advocacy organization started by pilot Bruce Gordon.
The group works to bring attention to environmental issues across the western United States, providing flyovers for different interest groups of some of the impacted and endangered areas in the West.
“Growing up here, I fell in love with public lands and the mountains, and I figured I could make a career out of that,” Gorman said. “I love getting to be a part of all these different grassroots groups and their efforts to protect these beautiful landscapes where they live.”
Every July in Carbondale, one can feel the energy build as the town prepares for the annual artistic extravaganza that is Mountain Fair.
“It’s such an exciting time of year, and you can feel that vibe all around town,” Gorman said.
He said he’s been to a lot of town celebrations, arts fairs and music festivals, but nothing quite combines the three into one like Mountain Fair, he said.
“This one’s just so community driven … there’s a certain spirit to it that is really inspiring, and makes me feel really good about where we live,” Gorman said.
As head of the Peace Patrol, he also gets to meet a lot more people and take it all in.
“I’m really excited to get a mango on a stick … and just walk around barefoot in the grass,” he said during a quiet evening interview in Sopris Park before this weekend’s big event.
And, of course, “I get some free beer out of it.”
His brother, James, helps out on the production end of things with longtime Mountain Fair staffer Mark Taylor, getting the park set up and ready for the fair every year. And, a group of Gorman’s friends runs the back-stage bar.
“My favorite thing is to see somebody sign up to volunteer who, maybe it’s their first time at the fair, or maybe they’re new in town like I once was,” Gorman said. “It’s such an incredible way to jump right in and get involved with the community and meet lots of people.”
Mountain Fair also serves as a bit of a town reunion for people who have moved away, but always try to come back for fair weekend, he observed.
Whenever he has some of his own friends coming to town for the weekend, he said he encourages them to sign up for a shift and be part of it all.
“It’s just so cool to live in a place where the arts are supported and encouraged,” Gorman added. “I think that makes a difference, too …”
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.