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Drought prompts city to cancel Gold Rush Days in Old Sacramento

Old Sacramento’s Gold Rush Days, hosted over the Labor Day weekend since 2000, have been canceled because of the drought, city tourism officials announced Monday.

The Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau, which organizes the annual event, said it used lots of water. To recreate the atmosphere of the 1850s, the city covers the streets of Old Sacramento in dirt. It then has to dampen the roads to keep the dust down, which requires 3,000 gallons of water a day. Another 100,000 gallons of water is needed at the end of the weekend to wash the dirt away.

“Hopefully there won’t be a drought next year, and we’ll come back with Gold Rush Days better than ever,” said Steve Hammond, the bureau’s president and chief executive officer.

The free event costs $153,258 to host, which is paid for through a variety of sponsors and the bureau’s budget.

Getting rid of the dirt would diminish the ambiance of Gold Rush Days, Hammond said.

“We thought, rather than doing a watered-down Gold Rush Days, moving forward with alternate entertainment is a better way to go,” Hammond said.

Hammond said the convention bureau board of directors was also concerned that the lack of soft dirt would make streets hazardous for performers and the farm horses that draw wagons through Old Sacramento during the event. Unlike the horses that pull carriages in Old Sacramento year-round, these horses are not used to walking on asphalt streets for four straight days.

The Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau is working with the Old Sacramento Business Association to still bring entertainment and business to Old Sacramento on Labor Day weekend. Some Gold Rush Days activities will continue – live bands, a beer crawl and a movie screening – and the business association is working to add more to the agenda including an outdoor western dance party. The weekend will not be called Gold Rush Days, however.

Gold Rush Days brings in about 100,000 people each year, maybe more the past few years since it no longer overlaps with the California State Fair at Cal Expo, said Chris McSwain, president of the Old Sacramento Business Association.

Some businesses create their budgets or stock shelves based on the assumptions that more people will come to Old Sacramento on Labor Day weekend, McSwain said.

“We still need to deliver new people, new crowds,” he said.

Ninety-five percent of the stores in Old Sacramento are locally owned, McSwain said. And this is the biggest, most profitable weekend of the year for some.

The amount of foot traffic from Gold Rush Days brings in at least a 70 percent profitability bump, said Phillip Perez, the general manager at Munchies Salt Water Taffy. “That’s basically our biggest moneymaking weekend,” Perez said. “It really hurts.”

Jeri Price, the owner of O’Grady’s Old Time Photos, thinks people would have just as much fun without the dirt. The shop, there since 1979 but owned by Price’s family for 23 years, is one of many that experience an uptick in sales that weekend.

“It’s our end-of-summer finale, for all of us, I think,” Price said.

Ann Tatum, owner and stagecoach driver for Classic Coach, said she’s disappointed Gold Rush Days is canceled because it’s a great opportunity for the public to learn about the area’s history. And the dirt on the streets makes more of an impact.

Tatum said she wishes the event would go on regardless of whether the streets were covered.

“I think Gold Rush without dirt is better than no Gold Rush at all,” said Tatum. On Monday, Tatum sat in her carriage, drawn by her horse, Champ. Behind her, a banner hung over the street, advertising the arrival of Gold Rush Days.

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