People turning out for lesson in history |

People turning out for lesson in history

A century and a half ago, prospectors came west with lofty dreams of striking gold. The Sierra foothills were brimming with activity again last weekend in a festive atmosphere that kicked off the state’s Sesquicentennial celebration.

Conservative estimates put the crowds at 17,000 for the two-day event in Coloma, where gold was discovered in 1848, but some visitors swore there was more than 60,000 people who crammed into the historic park. State Park Superintendent Matt Sugarman discounted unconfirmed reports of the inflated figures.

“There were crowds that were intense in some areas which may have given that perception,” he said. “For as many as we expected, we think we got about that same amount.”

What planners failed to receive were the big bucks by corporate agencies, forcing a last-minute scramble to find funds. However, there were a handful of corporate sponsors, including Pacific Bell, United Airlines and Raley’s/Bel Air. Final figures from receipts have yet to be confirmed but Sugarman said the weekend events should cover their expenses, approximately $100,000.

Visitors were thrown back to the Gold Rush era with dusty encampments, a bustling merchants’ market and period music and costumes. The Sesquicentennial, recognizing the 150th anniversary of California’s statehood, is expected to lure more tourists this year, pumping more dollars into the local economy. According to John Poimiroo, deputy secretary of the Trade and Commerce Agency of California, approximately 1.8 percent of annual visitors to the Golden State make their way to El Dorado County. Poimiroo anticipates that number to swell with the publicity about the anniversary.

There will be various events throughout the state in the upcoming months from festivals to traveling exhibits. The fervor in the foothills won’t diminish as Coloma will continue to attract visitors and host lectures. The last week of September will bring the World Gold Panning Championships on the South Fork of the American River. The event will be the main highlight to Gold Rush Week.

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