Cajun flavor in the mountains: Manitou Springs to hold annual Carnivale celebration!

You don’t have to go all the way to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras! Manitou Springs is holding its 30th annual Carnival celebration this year.
Published: Feb. 3, 2023 at 12:32 PM MST
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MANITOU SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - You don’t have to go all the way to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras!

Manitou Springs is holding its 30th annual Carnival celebration in just a couple of weeks!

“It’s the celebration of Mardi Gras that started here three decades ago, that we’re continuing on the tradition today,” said Jenna Gallas, the special events coordinator for Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce.

The weekend-long event has a rich history in Manitou, dating back to 1993. But how did a town 1,200 miles from New Orleans get so involved with Mardi Gras? The idea was the brainchild of Arlene Wood, a member of the Commonwheel Art Co-op, who was initially inspired by the Carnival of Venice.

“She came back from Venice and had seen all this fun stuff, and she wanted to get Manitou involved -- Manitou was still weird back then! -- and she thought it would be perfect to get people to dress up and go through town in the winter. She liked Carnivale but Mardi Gras was also the timing of what we chose in the state, so she went to the city and they said, ‘Oh, it’ll cost all this to go on the street,’ and all that, so she said, ‘Alright, we’re going to march on the sidewalk,’ and about 50 people showed up in costumes,” said Julia Wright, a fellow member of Commonwheel who was among those who paraded that year.

The idea proved to be a hit -- even without much in the way of advertising!

“We don’t even know how they found out about it that first year, but there were people watching on the streets, bands were in the bars, dancing was going on,” Wright said.

That proved to the city that there was indeed an appetite for a Mardi Gras celebration, and from there the event grew.

“After that, it just got bigger and bigger and more involved in the community,” said Wright.

Several years ago, the Chamber of Commerce got involved, making for Wright described as a just as fun but “so much more professional!”

This year’s celebration is happening Feb. 17 and 18, and the whole weekend is jam-packed with fun! There’s the CarniBALL the night of the 17th:

“That’s going to bed the masquerade ball the night before the parade and all the other festivities. So you can buy your tickets, and it’ll be at the Briarhurst Manor, full Cajun buffet and all kinds of activities and performers and live music happening there,” Gallas said.

Followed by the Mumbo Jumbo Gumbo Cajun Cookoff the following morning:

“That’s going to happen at Soda Springs Park. We have 20 gumbo chefs coming out first thing in the morning in the ice cold and cooking 5 gallons of gumbo so that folks can vote for their favorite. We’ll have our panel of judges coming as well and we’re going to give them prizes based on professional and amateur categories,” Gallas said.

Gumbo samples are just 75 cents apiece!

Then after gumbo, the crowning event: the Carnivale Parade down Manitou Avenue!

“[It is] just absolutely fun to see people out there dressed up and wearing these heavy, heavy costumes that are puppets,” Wright said.

You can see some examples of those puppets people where -- made out of paper maiche, 11 News is told by Gallas and Wright -- in the video above!

The parade is free to all and open to all -- anyone who wishes to march in it can still sign up here!

Snow, sleet or shin, the event will go on! The city encourages anyone in the Pikes Peak region and beyond to come on down and get a little Cajun flavor in the mountains!

“When you walk through the crowd, they’re dressed up too, so that’s really fun to see! And around town, the different places have gumbo that day, and it just makes it a real community event. And you don’t have to be a Manitou person to get in that spirit. If you can’t get to New Orleans, come to Manitou!” Wright said.

“Something to get away from the winter and be colorful and fun. Enjoy themselves in a way that winter doesn’t always offer.”

This year’s theme is Manitou Time Machine, in honor of another big milestone for the city: it’s 150th anniversary as a city!

More details on Carnivale can be found here.